Tag Archives: Marian Keyes

Why Does Literature Seem To Snub Genre?

I seem to have a backlog of random posts on my thoughts about the book world and reading at the moment. It seems I am having a phase where every book I read sparks a question about my reading habits or reading in general. I hope you all enjoy these posts because there is going to be quite an influx of them over the next few weeks. The first of these that I want to talk about came from my review of Penny Hancock’s ‘Tideline’ yesterday when I said it was ‘the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature’ because this is something that seems to be a common misconception in the book world or in bookish circles. Why can’t a crime novel, and indeed any work that is deemed genre, also be deemed ‘literature’?

My initial line of thinking is the fact that on the whole crime novels are not particularly known for being flowery, you can’t really make a dead body picturesque can you – though you can make it haunting and atmospheric, yet flowery prose doesn’t mean that a book is literary either does it? Crime novels, and I am focusing on these as they are the genre I read the most outside what people deem ‘literary novels’, by their nature have to focus on plot and they have to have pace. This doesn’t have to come at the expense of good writing though as I find with authors like Kate Atkinson or Susan Hill the writing that they use in their ‘crime’ novels (atmospheric, observational, vivid) is the same as they use in the novels that would be put in the ‘fiction’ section and which are deemed to be much more literary because they lose the crime tag.

I have just recently given up on a very ‘literary’ novel because while the writing was stunning the book itself wasn’t going anywhere. The plot was there but it was fizzling out, it was dragging, and I was getting increasingly bored. So I gave up. That very rarely happens to me with a good thriller. With literary novels you often here the phrase ‘a multi layered novel’ have any of these people read the aforementioned Kate Atkinson (whose use of small coincidences to twist a tale is fantastic) or Sophie Hannah by any chance as both these authors created tales which are definitely multi layered, whilst being gripping reads with big stories at their heart, and I do think every reader loves a good ‘story’. Many people will say that genre fiction is train station or airport reading, but isn’t that in itself interesting that when people go away they want those sorts of books? Here we could go into the dangerous territory of ‘readability vs. literature’ so lets move swiftly on…

The other misconception I have often heard is that crime novels, or any genre novel actually, often feature one dimensional or rather stereotypical characters. I always find myself wanting to shout ‘what about Sherlock Holmes, people actually wrote to the man, they thought he was real’ to this, but I suppose that’s classic crime so doesn’t fit in with my discussion on modern crime now, though it was deemed literature in its day. If I was discussing chick-lit I would here use the Jane Austen argument and how at the time it was not deemed as ‘literature’ and look at how she is hailed now, Charles Dickens is another one, paid per word as a regular newspaper serialisation, now heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to have lived by many.

Let’s get back to the characters in modern crime though. I think we could find the ‘stereotypical’ characters in almost every novel we read, does ‘stereotypical’ therefore actually mean the true to life people who live next door or you might pass by on the street? What of one dimensional characters? I read few crime novels where this is the case, they wouldn’t work for me as a read if they were. Again there are a number of authors, including the above, where I could say this statement was untrue; Tess Gerritsen (I read the Rizzoli and Isles series because I want to know what they are up to, I like them, I feel I have gotten to know them over a series) and Val McDermid (Jacko Vance might be my favourite serial killer ever, if one can have one) for starters.

Val McDermid once said to me ‘it’s not the crime that’s the really important thing to me, it’s what crime or murder does to the people surrounding it that truly motivates me’. I have paraphrased there, sorry if you read this Val, but I think is one of the true signs of why crime can be counted as literature, it looks at how humans are conditioned to react, emote and deal in extreme circumstances. People say ‘oh but crime stories are so farfetched’ but they happen and often it’s the most bizarre crimes that have us sitting watching the news and saying ‘oh you couldn’t have made that up’ and ‘how would you deal with that, can you imagine?’ With a book you can from the safety of your sofa, just as you can being in a war torn country, having been bereaved, experiencing dictatorial leadership or simply being in a very dysfunctional family. All these things people are experiencing all over the world but just because it’s not happening to us or those we know doesn’t mean it is ‘farfetched’. Also thanks to crime in translation we learn about other cultures through the subject matter dealt with by the novels of the likes of Henning Mankell or Natsuo Kirino.

Of course there is some badly written and one dimensional drivel out there on the crime shelves, but the same applies to literature doesn’t it. We also all have different tastes. I have always found it interesting when I have reviewed an M.C. Beaton and then had emails saying people won’t read my blog any more as they thought I only read ‘proper’ books. What constitutes a ‘proper’ book I do not know, any ideas?

I am fully aware that I can fall prey to the same issues with other genres (aliens… like they exist) though I have just read a stunning werewolf novel (no, really) and indeed I have been umming and ahhhing about reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ because I have heard rave reviews from people I trust and think the premise sounds interesting, but from just looking at it my mind says ‘chick-lit’ and I switch off, this has happened whenever I have been recommended Marian Keyes, which has happened a lot. Am I then adding to the literary snobbery myself, I hope not, and may now rush and get ‘Me Before You’ just to prove a point.

This might be one of those posts that often appear on Savidge Reads where I start with a question that has been buzzing around in my head, write about it and end up asking more questions than I can answer and coming out the other side without a conclusion. It is a subject that interests me and one I would love to have a good old natter with you all about, so your thoughts please…

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Are We Reading Eclectically Enough?

I don’t want to keep banding the cancer word about, yet I do think its interesting that since I was told that those evil cells were now firmly friends of mine I have been thinking differently about reading. I mentioned last week how I went from racing through lots of books and today I wanted to discuss how it made me wonder if I was actually reading eclectically enough, and eclectic reading in general, so I hope you will all offer your thoughts.

I was actually eavesdropping at the hospital waiting area where they have a book exchange, which I find an interesting idea in a hospital, I mean the NHS have been great but no one wants to be coming back and forth to a hospital do they really no matter how necessary – sorry I have digressed. So anyway I was eavesdropping as a couple were routing through the shelves. They came across a copy of an unnamed but incredibly pastel coloured book and the woman said ‘oh even I wouldn’t read that it looks like utter chick lit nonsense’. On a separate visit a different pair were routing through the books on the shelves and came across a book that she described as ‘dafty alien rubbish, that’s the kind of thing you would read’ before shooting an eyebrow up at him. I found this interesting as both assumptions I had made about the same two books yet hearing them out loud I thought ‘oooh what snobs’ and then thought ‘oh dear does that make me a snob?’

I am hoping it doesn’t as really I would classify sci-fi and chick lit not as books that I am snobby about but just ones that aren’t really to my taste. This used to be the same for non-fiction books, however I have slowly but surely started to convert myself, and the same applies to classics actually (though these were more books that English Literature lessons at school put me off rather than me being adverse to them in the first place) which I have been trying harder at… occasionally, in fact I should be making more of an effort with the classics again and finally read a Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy if I am honest.

Why don’t I think I like sci-fi, fantasy and chick lit? Well I have never been a huge fan of aliens in books, in films and TV it’s fine, I used to love The X Files and am still a fan of Doctor Who (though not to excess), but for some reason on the page its never quite washed with me. I have yet to read a book that has convinced me by an alien world. The same applies to fantasy, I tried Lord of the Rings when I was younger and just thought it was ridiculous and have carried that thought, without testing it again, ever since. Weirdly though I love a good tale of the supernatural or ghost story, not that they are the same but its interesting a spooky world can ignite me (yet I don’t tend to read horror either) yet an alien or troll filled one doesn’t seem to.

Chick lit and I used to be friends. Who hasn’t read Bridget Jones Diary, and what made people less sneery about that book than others? My friend Gemma has been telling me for ages I must read Marian Keyes and I have always winced a little and said ‘really?’ I have been told to read Jenny Colgan often by Paul Magrs and the same response has been given. Yet I used to read everything by Lisa Jewell, and ‘A Friend of the Family’ is still one of my favourite books, and yet I havent picked up another in years and years. Why not?

So maybe its time to challenge myself, I have pulled four books I have been sent (I couldn’t find any fantasy) out of the TBR and they are by the bedside and will be little tests, to be read on a whim of course, that will gently test the waters with my tastes once more (the Daisy Goodwin sounds up my street, I have seen the film of I Am Number Four, Jessica Ruston is Susan Hills daughter so have always wanted to try her and I have had success with China Mievilles crime novel so might with his full on sci-fi)…

But I think its time for a gauntlet to be thrown down and see if maybe I need to be a bit more adventurous. So I thought you could all help by suggesting your favourite books in various genres (because I am aware that while I love crime fiction books there are lots of you who don’t) and seeing if we could enlighten each other to what books we have loved that might open new reading paths for each other. So here are the categories and I have put my favourites in and left question marks in the ones I have no idea about .I have missed out literary fiction as I never really know what that means; I just think that’s general fiction isn’t it or have I opened a can of worms there? Have I missed any other genres?

Chick Lit: ?
Crime Fiction: Any of the series by Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah or Susan Hill
Horror: ?
Fantasy:  ?
Non-Fiction: In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosely
Science Fiction: ?

Anyway it could be a fun little exercise for a Tuesday. If you don’t fancy giving it a go then do let me know your thoughts on eclectic reading (or do both) in general. Are there any genre’s out there you avoid and if so why? Do you often test the waters with genres you think you don’t like to see if your mind can be changed or do you think with so many books out there life is just too short and it’s best just sticking to what you know? Is all of this just a question of taste, can you be converted?

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A Few More Aquisitions

So last weekend when I wasn’t ill in bed with the delights of pig flu and had finally gotten around to unpacking most of my things Novel Insights came round and we went to my favourite ‘5 Books for £2’ store and I went a bit crazy, as did she. However I then went back again the next day… and on Monday, whoops. I love seeing the treasures that you have brought back when you have been shopping and so once again I thought I would share mine.

New Books... And More New Books 

Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicholson – This is an account of one of the most famous literary marriages and quite an unconventional one. “Vita Sackville-West, novelist, poet, and biographer, is best known as the friend of Virginia Woolf, who transformed her into an androgynous time-traveler in Orlando. The story of Sackville-West’s marriage to Harold Nicolson is one of intrigue and bewilderment. In Portrait of a Marriage, their son Nigel combines his mother’s memoir with his own explanations and what he learned from their many letters. Even during her various love affairs with women, Vita maintained a loving marriage with Harold. Portrait of a Marriage presents an often misunderstood but always fascinating couple.”

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford – I am a slight Mitford addict and that’s after having only read their letters to each other and the first of Nancy Mitford’s novels ‘The Pursuit of Love’ but believe me that is enough. Now finding this very rare and out of print copy of one her non fiction novels I was completely overjoyed.  

Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath – A gothic mansion and a mystery tale, which kind of sold it for me, plus it’s in almost brand spanking new condition. I haven’t read any McGrath yet but have ‘The Asylum’ in my TBR too. This was a slightly random purchase.  

Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon – I liked the title, I won’t pretend it was anything more than that because it wasn’t. Well… I liked the blurb too, a town of widows and how they cope with war as well as each other.

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor – I have seen a few very good reviews of this and though I have STILL not read ‘The American Boy’ when I saw this in mint condition I couldn’t say no. There must have been a book group which this was the choice of as there were about six brand new copies in the store.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron – I have a vague notion of what this cult classic is about and feel I may cry my eyes out when reading it (please don’t anyone give me any spoilers) this has been on my radar in previous visits to the shop and finally gave in. 

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold – I have been sent a review copy of Glen David Gold’s latest novel ‘Sunnyside’ and I wanted to give what has become some sort of modern cult classic first.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – I want to try my hand at more non fiction and have heard some people say that this is as good as, if not better, than ‘In Cold Blood’ which I think is absolutely fantastic so this had to be purchased. 

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt – Actually I bought this on a quick dash into the store on Monday after I had heard the sad news that Frank McCourt had sadly past away. After hearing from so many of you how wonderful this book is I decided I really needed to read this.

Playing With The Grown Up’s by Sophie Dahl – When I was young Roald Dahl was one of my favourite, if not favourite, author’s and I have been intrigued by the fact his now famous Granddaughter Sophie becoming a writer. I wouldn’t have bought this if it wasn’t for the fact that one of my friends who doesn’t read very often has raved about this endlessly so I hope they are right.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – At book group Claire brought this in as her favourite read. I have always quite fancied giving it a go anyway however this made it a future must read. The books that Claire has reviewed and that I have read and she has loved I have also loved so her recommendations are ones I always hanker after.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes – I hope that Savidge Reads isn’t a snobbish book blog and accepts all different sorts of literature or at least has a go at them. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest selling books of the year and I gave Twilight a go so why shouldn’t I give this one a try. Two people who I like very much have also raved about her writing.

Passion by Jude Morgan – I have just started ‘Taste of Sorrow’ and my mother has been raving about ‘Indiscretion’ which I bought her (and I own) so I have a feeling that Jude could become an author that I like a lot. If not it was only 50p. I know little about Mary Shelley and the idea of reading a fictional account of her excites me, I loved Frankenstein.   

Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane – I have heard of ‘Time After Time’ but not this one. I admit I bought it for the cover and the fact that the blurb sounded so art deco and fabulous. Two female friends who aren’t actually as friendly as they might appear sounds like a recipe for 1930’s fun.

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling – I saw a review of this on Bath Books and have been hankering after it ever since. Gothic late Victorian London, a book-binding business gone bust and Dora Damage must go to any lengths to save herself and her family. It has been compared to some of Sarah Waters earlier work… I cannot wait.

Do you own any of these? Have you been hankering after any of these? What books are you itching to get your hands on? What have you bought recently?

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