I never gave any thought to genre when I was a child. Hell, I really never gave a whole lot of thought to genre until I signed a contract with my agent. But looking back at over half a century of being an avid reader, I know my reading choices were affected by several parameters—the least of which was a genre.
My choices as a child were limited by 1) what my mother brought home 2) what was in the local Five-&-Dime (and for those of you scratching your heads, ask—I am giving away my age here…) 3) what I had to read in school and 4) what was available from the Scholastic Book Club that month (also part of school). I had Golden Books (remember those? They’re still around). I read stories about talking rabbits and talking cats and talking butterflies. Was I reading fantasy? Damned if I know. I was reading a colorful book with hard cardboard covers and a gold foil spine. I was having fun. I was being pulled out of my me-ness and my world and into Someplace Else in my imagination.
I also had several large books of fairy tales, which I assume my parents or some relative bought. There was the usual Mother Goose stuff but there were also Aesop’s stories, and then one book that I remember treasuring that had to be someone’s original ideas. Thinking back, they had an almost Narnia quality to them but they weren’t the Narnia books. There was one tale of a clothes cabinet in an attic, and the little girl in the story could use it for all sorts of adventures (I’m thinking a mirror was involved). I remember one of the stories involved a pair of red shoes (Mary Jane style from the illustration that I can still—vaguely—see to this day). The other involved a dress she wore in a print of multi-colored pom-poms. I craved that dress. There was something about that particular dress and its colors, but what and how and why are all long since gone from my mind.
So perhaps I read adventure? Thriller? With a fantasy sub-plot?
In school Dick and Jane were always doing something. Was that general literary fiction? A precursor of Oprah meets Dr. Phil? Then when I was nine or ten my mother subscribed to Reader’s Digest Condensed Classics For Children, and every few months a nice big fat volume came in the mail. For me. Oh, joy. Oh, rapture. I fell in love with The Scarlet Pimpernel. I solved crimes with Sherlock Holmes.
I wouldn’t know a genre if it bit me in the behind.
At the end of every school year, the local library had a book sale, with the children’s books all on long tables. I was in heaven. I had my dollar which meant I could buy ten books, and I grabbed them based on cover images, title. Genre? No clue. “Does this look like fun?” was my only parameter.
I read The Hobbit in eighth grade. Not because I was browsing the fantasy section but because everyone else was reading The Hobbit. I never asked myself if I like fantasy or whether I’d find stories about not-quite-human creatures believable. “Suspension of disbelief” had no meaning to me. After all, I’d cut my reading teeth on fairy tales. Reading about ogres and witches and fairies and talking mice and flying cats had opened my mind long ago.
I read for the sheer joy of the experience. Opening the first page of a book signaled to my mind an immediate shut off of here and now, of reality as I knew it. Even when I was a pre-teen and read You Have To Draw The Line Somewhere—a YA novel before such were labeled so—about a high school girl deciding between a regular college and an art school. No unreality in that but it was still not MY life or MY school or MY decision. So it required a shut off of here and now, which I gladly did. (If you think it’s amazing that I remember the title of a book I read when I was twelve, then you don’t understand the depth of my love affair with the printed word.)
I didn’t give one thought to whether or not I liked the genre.
Rather, the one common denominator in all that I read—once I could make my own choices—was “does this problem or situation sound interesting?” In essence, conflict. In essence, to quote Blake Snyder, I was interested in “it’s all about a guy who…” Whether the guy was a prince, a doctor, a magician or a high school student mattered not one bit.
In my twenties and later, I did a lot of book buying at the grocery store where, for the most part, there’s no genre separation. Oh, there’s a little, with romance books on the left of the long display and some science fiction and fantasy in a row at the bottom. Or vice versa. But as people read the back cover blurbs and replace them, the books just get put back…somewhere. So I chose much as I had a decade before at the school library sale—what looks like fun?
I first read Melissa Scott because I found her Five Twelfths of Heaven in a bin in K-Mart.
I found Sherrilyn Kenyon’s A Pirate of Her Own (writing as Kinley MacGregor) in a bin in TJ Maxx (or it might have been Beall’s Outlet…).
I found Austin Tappan Wright’s Islandia…I don’t know where. I only remember reading it in college so possibly it was on a rack in the IU bookstore.
I didn’t read back then with one eye tracking whether or not the author fulfilled the conventions of the genre. I read because it was all about a gal or guy who… and it wasn’t where or who I was.
It never occurred to me to read—or not read—a certain genre because it wasn’t cool or it wasn’t something a female would read or it wasn’t highly regarded by this-or-that person.
I read because for a couple hundred pages, I wasn’t me.
So why do you read? What did you read as a child and has that impacted what you read now?
And do you quiver with excitement over a bin full of mixed books in a bargain store…or do you need your genres properly cordoned off on shelves?
Inquiring minds want to know. ~Linnea
// Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//
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