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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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5 Genres Who Got It Wrong

Human beings like genres. Genres are comfortable. They’re familiar. They’re easy. And it makes sense. Our brains have to sort through an infinite amount of incoming information every day. By categorizing things, we can sift through that information faster, as well as form a basis for which we develop standards. But more importantly, genres sell. We get that.

But have you ever browsed through the genres on Netflix and found yourself saying out loud, “Wait a minute. The Truman Show isn’t a comedy. It’s a sick social experiment and paranoid  nightmare of mine. Sometimes genres take advantage of us as consumers, and so we might be disappointed when we're in the mood to watch/read something else. How many people watched M. Night Shyamalan's The Village wanting to see an actual horror movie? 

Do we limit ourselves by restricting books to definable label? As the great genre debate rages on the Internet, we’ve pointed out 5 examples of genres who didn't quite get it right...

1. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Two best friends trying to make it in the post-earth universe with a two-headed, ex-hippie president of the galaxy, a manically depressed robot who could give Eeyore a run for his money, and a towel at your side at all times as “the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have?” This novel falls under a new genre I’m going to coin today called, “Absurd.” Because that’s what this book is. How many science fiction novels associate intelligence with depression? This novel isn’t sci-fi, it’s a parody of sci-fi, commenting on how wrong we often are about science in the modern world. Also, 42.

3. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

Since publication, people have thrown around the term “Stepford Wife” to describe the obedient suburban housewife who seems too perfect to be real. Perhaps she puts on a façade of giving fake compliments while silently passing judgment on the others. But I think a lot of people remember the android wives the most, and sometimes forget that the real monsters in the novel are the Stepford husbands. This novel is more than just a thriller about people turning into robots. It’s a social commentary on conformism in 20th century America, especially challenging society’s perceived notion of the role of women in the family dynamic. This novel might be thrilling, but it's really a political novel for the feminist movement.

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
Young Adult?

Though the main character, Liesel Meminger, is only 9 years old, this book is actually narrated by someone with a little more perspective on Nazi Germany during WWII: Death himself. In this book, you will find foster parents who curse a lot, the stigma of communism in the 1940s, and a whole lot of thievery. But you will also find that this book explores an array of dark and complex themes we seem to only attribute to young adult novels these days. Why? This novel shouldn't limited to a single demographic. So I'm going to call it historical fiction.

4. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Although this play has a lot of identifying elements of a Shakespearean comedy (woman disguising as men, ending with a double wedding, etc…), the story literally traces the gradual and total unraveling of a man’s life--the supposed antagonist, Shylock.  A little history into Venetian property rights gives us the true backdrop for this play. Jews were forced into making a living out of usury because they were denied the right to own property. The two protagonists, who are extremely anti-Semitic, practically bully Shylock into making a deal with them, consistently poking fun at him and villainizing him for the way he makes his living (which he has no choice in). And when Antonio and Bassario don’t come through with the money, they are appalled that Shylock demands they hold up their end of the bargain, which is to provide a pound of Antonio’s flesh. A major theme in the novel is the idea of mercy. But nobody once shows mercy towards Shylock, who loses his whole family, his business, and his pride, for simply not letting people take advantage of him. He is prideful, but he is not evil, which makes for a very complex antagonist. And in the middle of the play, he gives his famous speech, asking if his blood is not the same as any other humans. It’s incredibly tragic. So much so that the 2004 movie rendition is considered a drama. Not sure why this particular comedy drifts into ambiguity, but I think it’s safe to say that even Shakespeare gets bored.

5. The Dark Towers Series by Stephen King

Though famous for his horror novels, Stephen King created a series that is vomiting genres all over the place. It's a sort of King Arthur saga set in the Wild West, where time is unreliable, the sun rises in the North on occasion, and the main character’s entire world is unexplainably beginning to disappear. A blend of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and western, the Dark Towers Series proves that sometimes just one genre is just not good enough.

Genre blending is not new, but as genre-lovers, we don't always know how to market these gems. We can be quick to shout mislabeling, but I think it's the books that are breaking the rules. There are books that not only defy their own genres—but every genre. And it's when we recognize a novel has transcended genre limitations that we can appreciate it more.

While can’t always avoid labels, we can keep an open mind about what we're reading. 

Do you know any other books that have been often mis-genred? Comment below!

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