The trouble with categories for books? Like categories of humans, as soon as you slap a label on a book, you limit it. People tend to avoid it unless it’s a genre they read. Of course many books, like people, don’t fit neatly into a pigeonhole. A major category, and one that some readers are uncomfortable with, even avoid, is literary. They assume the language will challenge them, the plot won’t flow.
You deny yourself a great deal of reading pleasure if you avoid literary work. On the flip side, you deny yourself a great deal of reading pleasure if you avoid genre work because you approach it with preconceptions. I’ve found some of my favorite novels are cross-genre, frequently sci fi or speculative with literary. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is an example.
You increase your reading pleasure when you sample cross-genre writing, a hybrid of themes and elements from two or more genres. Often stimulating, it presents opportunities for creativity in writing as well as discussions among readers.
A new-ish, genre-leaping novel is Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. This 2014 work shouldered its way into notice via a list of awards as long as my arm, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, 10 Best Books of the Year by the Washinton Post and others.
At this point, dystopian novels are as common as situational comedies on television. For many of us, our vision of the future looms grim, which might account for the popularity of the genre. I still enjoy a number of them, but a book has to possess outstanding writing for me to rave on about it.
This one succeeded not because it was more violent, bloody, action-packed, sexy, or even original. Mandel’s writing style appeals to me. She juggles numerous characters, leaps back and forth in time, switches voices, and encourages speculation from her readers about what has happened and might occur. No space aliens, nothing outside the realm of possibility. A new virus spreads rapidly over the world, killing 99% of the population. The remainders group together in new ways, intent on sheer survival, most of those the book follows eventually tied together in some manner. Mandel’s language is clear yet evocative; her control over her material, stunning. I ended the novel depressed over the world it created but in awe of the journey.
Readers and writers thrive on outstanding writing. It can be traditional or innovative in approach, of a genre or genre-crossed. Don’t miss this one.