Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What’s In a Genre?

Sorry about not posting here Monday. Crazy day to be flying. However let me say here and now for the record, that I have the Best. Wife. In. The. World.

We were running late for my flight and I left my cell phone in the car. The Amazing Jennifer not only realized I left my phone. She zipped back into the parking garage, tried to page me, realized I was on the plane already, ran down to the ticket counter, got a security pass, ran all the way to my gate (which was far, far, far), and convinced them to open the boarding door and bring me my phone. I am not worthy!

Hard to top that, so I won’t even try. But I do want to talk about something that came up on another blog I post to. Rob Wells, who has an amazing YA novel called Variant coming out this fall, posted about why teens love dystopian novels.

He made a lot of great points. His general reasoning was that teens generally feel oppressed about things. There is always someone telling them what they can and can’t do.Therefore dystopian novels are a way of breaking free from controls.

I gave him kind of a hard time about it. But the truth is, he might very well be right. It’s as good a reason as any. Teens often do feel oppressed and that has spawned many things, not the least of which was rock and roll.

I’m not going to debate here whether or not he is right. But what I do want to consider is whether a huge uptick in certain genre sales have a reflection on how teens feel, or the status of the world we live in. Paranormal romance is big right now. Does that mean something? Magic and fantasy were big a couple of years ago. Did that mean something?

I was recently on a fantasy panel where the question was why teens read so much fantasy and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. I didn’t say it at the time, but I kind of wonder if it neither good nor bad, but just a thing.

I guess I’m kind of skeptic when it comes to reading a lot into the trends of what any group is reading or listening to. When I was in high school punk was big. Nose rings, pins in your ears and cheeks (not mine, that looked way painful), colored and spiked hair. Music that was mostly a lot of yelling and smashing things.

Hmm . . . come to think of it a lot of that sounds like today. But at the time it was cool. It was rebellious. Only the parents we were rebelling against were the same people who not so many years before had rebelled against their parents by listening to this guy by the name of Elvis. So maybe we weren’t so original after all.

Which brings me back to books. Again, going way back to the stone age when I was a teen, horror was huge. Stephen King had rocked the world with novels like Carrie, The Shining, and Salem’s Lot. The movies were filled with Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.

And the big question was, “Why are today’s youth so attracted to scary movies and books?” There were all kinds of theories—most of which sound a lot like the same theories we hear about dystopian novels today.

My question for you is, do you believe that you can track how teens are feeling and what they feel the world is like by what they read? Is Hunger Games a sign that teens feel the world is failing around them and want to fight back? Or is it just that Hunger Games was a great series and teens are looking for more books like it? Or even more skeptical, is it that publishers saw Hunger Games selling like hotcakes and pushed a whole bunch more out the chute?

If you can read something into what is hot with teens, what did Twilight say about teens? What did fantasy? Zombies? What will it mean if the next big thing is historical romances?

What genres do you like? And what do you think that says about you? I’d especially love to hear from young readers themselves.

Oh, and by the way, speaking of teen readers, got this in my e-mail today from Alaina. I love it!! Thanks.


David Glenn said...

I like the fantasy and science fiction stuff, so I guess that means I like what could be possible as well as things that stretch the imagination. Cool picture of Bonesplinter, although I pictured him as being bald.

Lorrie said...

I read tons of different Genra's because I like variaty. this time of the year I usually can't read anything too depressing but I just finnished 'the Cellist of Sarajevo' and really liked it. I do read what my kids read because I want to know what they are getting into. We talk about it and why we liked it or didn't. I have a son who has a HS teacher who likes some dark stuff so we talk about it. I quit reading 39 clues cause I didn't like the second one but my younger son is trying to convince me the third is better. I may have to try it.

Laura said...

Genre trends. It's an interesting thing to explore. Honestly, I think if the story is unique and the character is relateable, any genre can suck you in. It's the story, characters and pace that make kids (or anyone) want to read a book. With my teen boy, he wants something that takes him on a ride and isn't 400 pages long. That's pretty much it. He could care less what genre it is as long as he relates to the characters and loves the story.

And while dystopian is high on the list, so is contemporary and, yes, fantasy. Can anyone say Percy Jackson? My almost ten-year-old just asked me to buy the last book in the series. He started reading the series in September.

And I thought only a Nintendo DS could hold his attention.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Very intriguing topic.

Reminded me of what happened in my writers group today. A writer had written about a world where the MC was an angel who kept balance in the world. There had to be so much evil and so much good. To keep the balance the MC had to kill the good. Which made me more than a bit uncomfortable.

Is this a trend in writing? She's very hip on trends. And if so, what does that say?

Makes a writer wonder.