Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice: A Must Read in 2013

This article was written by Amarie Fox.

At the beginning of every new year, while everyone is beginning to compile a list of novels that they would to read, I like discovering at least one book that is celebrating a rather significant anniversary.

This year, Jane Austen’s much beloved Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, is turning 200 years old. Initially, I wasn’t going to make note of it. I mean, I love Austen just as much as the next bookworm. I can proudly admit I have read every single one of her novels, all on my own (since not a single one of her works was assigned reading in school) and, in fact, have read many of them more than once.

Where did my hesitation stem from, then?

‘Popular for all of the wrong reasons.’

All of my friends, who I label as ‘dedicated’ readers, consider Austen to be a pivotal turning point in literature. For, in her, we see, for maybe the first time, a woman writing in a strong female voice. Last Christmas, I actually purchased for one of my dearest friends, a silhouette-type portrait of Austen, to hang over her writing desk. When I was picking it out, there were many other famous authors – like Twain and Hemmingway – but Austen stuck out like a sore thumb: she was the only authoress.

Her popularity and influence is clear, even in modern culture, but you must ask yourself why. Is it because she wrote so-called romances and according to old-fashioned, stereotypical thinking all women by default love romances? That may be a part of it.

Still, whenever I hear anyone mentions Austen, I immediately recall Fran Lebowitz and her brilliant opinion piece on why Jane Austen is still popular… for all of the wrong reasons. She point out that it is a misconception that Austen wrote girlish romances, meant only for the immature or adolescent reader. As Lebowitz reminds us, many important male figures, such as Kipling and Churchill praised Austen’s writing, so it wasn’t exclusively written for woman or girls.

One of my favorite critiques of Pride and Prejudice comes from another female author that I respect and love, perhaps just as much. In a 1848 letter to G.H. Lewis, Charlotte Bronte expresses her immense dissatisfaction with the novel, saying:

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point… I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentleman, in their elegant but confined houses.

Like many other readers, Bronte misses the point of Austen’s work and applies her own contemporary, or Romantic, ideas of ‘openness’ to Austen’s work. Instead of immersing herself in the world of Austen, she expects to see a sort of reflection of her expectations shining back at her. Just as with any piece of literature, this is not any fault of the author, but of the reader.

Encapsulating Human Nature

Many titles don’t necessarily speak for a book, but Pride and Prejudice is such a fitting and important one, that works wonderfully with its internal content and subject matter. Originally, when Austen began the story in 1790, she titled the manuscript First Impressions. Now, this title would have worked, seeing as how many of the characters pre-judge and then go through a separate process of re-judging. However, pride and prejudice often get in the way of first impressions don’t they? Austen is getting to the core of it all. Reminding her audience that both pride and prejudice are perhaps the most negative traits of human nature, but something that we all share.

If Austen was anything, she was a supreme satirist and ironist. This is what many readers often miss. She could take a situation and put it in a comedic light, all in order to bring about some other sort of mental questioning and subsequent examination from the audience. If one scratches away at the seemingly shiny surface, underneath, all one will find is a critique of society and how it operates.

Pride and Prejudice was written not during the Victorian period, but during a political crisis – following the French Revolution – and also in a time of social mobility. The latter is of central importance, seeing as how marriage is of central importance to many of the characters. All social interactions throughout the novel seem to revolve around marriage. After all, it is through personal economy that one can advance their rank or ‘move up,’ so to speak. In Austen’s world, this is not just a female fault, but a male fault, as well. Both sexes are equally as guilty.

As ‘romantic’ as the story can seem, in my readings of Austen, I find that her extreme wit is overwhelming. There is so much she plays with, so that she doesn’t have to explain every single detail. She assumes her readers to be smart, she assumes that she doesn’t need to put up a flashing sign above her work that reads: “I am poking fun at all of you and how you act. Don’t you see?”

Most novels that are considered “classic” in the literary canon are happen to be so for a reason: they are critiquing something, almost always, the potentially dangerous or bad parts of human nature. All of those great authors shared the single knowledge that we will never change. Like great literary-prophets, though, they said what they needed to say anyway. Even if no one ever heeded the advice or turned a mirror to themselves and society, in order to examine the wrongs that are always so glaringly obvious.

One more time, it is…

My hesitation to add Pride and Prejudice to my 2013 reading list was only due in part to the fear of being grouped in with people who would also be reading the novel and completely missing the point. Or worse, scouring the pages for something relatable to their own life – that little mirror that would show them what they wished for.

That sort of fear is simple vanity, though, and so I added Austen to my reading list. Not only because she deserves another read, but because I am sure there is something I have missed and haven’t uncovered yet.

Extra Readings and Related Links:

The Jane Austen Society of North America
The Republic of Pemberley
Fran Lebowitz and Her Reflection on Austen

Will you be adding Pride and Prejudice to your reading list for 2013? Why or why not?

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Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. She is still getting comfortable with those titles. More information can be found on amariefox.tumblr.com.

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Photo: Some rights reserved by Thalita Carvalho ϟ.

Announcement: Slow-Read Sunday

I’d like to slowly read/re-read some classics this year with any of you that are interested. So, I’m announcing a new weekly blog feature I’m going to call “Slow-Read Sunday.”

I’m sure some of you have read the article by Maura Kelly that appeared in The Atlantic in March. Kelly argues that 30 minutes a day of slow-reading is not too much to ask of anyone and I tend to agree. Along the theoretical grounds she established I think we should shoot for a book a month. In a year we’ll have read 12 classics together.

The Plan

What I plan to do is generally prescribe our weekly goals. Then, on Sundays, I’ll try to summarize where we’ve been that week and do my best to inspire some discussion in the comments.

By slow-reading, aiming for only a book a month, I hope you won’t feel like you’re being forced to read nothing but the month’s selection. You’ll have time for whatever else is on your reading plate. Those with limited time can find a way to read 30 or so pages a day, and if you do that every day for a month you’ll have finished one of the greatest novels ever written, a true classic.

February’s Selection: The Brothers Karamazov

In February, I think we should have a go at The Brothers Karamazov. It’s on every list of my favorite books that I’ve ever attempted to put together and Alyosha is one of my top ten favorite literary characters of all-time. I realize this is an awfully ambitious place to start a slow-reading project, but it’s the perfect book for it in my opinion because it’s long. If you can read this one you can read anything. It’s also a beautiful story with several fully developed characters.

I’ll be reading the Pevear translation. There are some cheaper editions that you could manage with, but the Pevear translation is generally viewed as superior.

For the first week I propose we read Part One, up to p. 161 of the edition above, by February 3, 2012. By my math that’s 23 pages each day for a seven-day week. If you’re using a different edition you should be able to manage by reading Part I in your edition.

Here are a couple of resources that might help you with your reading:

1. Dartmouth Resources for The Brothers Karamazov.

2. Middlebury Study Guide.

A Comment About Our Pace

We should average about 30 pages a day through the course of the month. If you get behind you can always just wait to read the week’s post until you’ve caught up and join the discussion then. Every Sunday I’ll post my thoughts on the section we’ve read that week and you can join in with comments whenever you get the time.

Look at this as an opportunity to start a daily reading habit if you haven’t already or as an opportunity to read a classic all over again with some new folks.

Who’s in? We’ll discuss Part One of The Brothers Karamazov next Sunday, February 3rd.

Photo: Some rights reserved by blumenbiene.

Who Cares About Spoilers?

This article was written by Andrew Blackman.

If you read book reviews online, you’re probably aware that many people really hate spoilers, and that many reviewers, in response, avoid discussing key plot points, particularly the ending.  But do spoilers really spoil your enjoyment of a book?  They don’t for me, and I hope by the end of this post to have convinced you to liberate yourself from spoiler-fear too.

Why spoiler fear matters

This is not just a pet peeve of mine.  It has a serious effect on the quality of book reviews and literary discussions.  Fear of spoilers inhibits discussion of the most interesting part of a book: the ending.  This is the part where a novelist usually comes closest to revealing to us what he or she is really trying to say, but it’s often the part that gets missed out.  We’re so afraid of spoiling someone’s enjoyment of the book, in other words, that we end up spoiling our book reviews instead.  Some people take refuge behind a “spoiler alert”, losing readers along the way, but many people just avoid the discussion altogether.

Why spoilers don’t really spoil

Fear of spoilers is unnecessary.  In reality, most people read a book review for one of two reasons: either they are considering reading the book and want to know whether it’s worth it, or they’ve already read the book and want to know what other people think about it.  In the second case, spoilers are clearly no problem, and in fact a discussion of the ending may be exactly what the reader is looking for.  It’s the first case that usually bothers people.  If I reveal a key plot point, won’t it spoil that person’s enjoyment of the book when they come to read it?

In short, no it won’t.  It’s usually at least several days, and sometimes weeks or months, before a reader of a book review actually buys or borrows the book and gets around to reading it. With eBooks that time could be shorter, but it’s still unlikely to be immediate.  The memory of the alleged “spoiler” will have started to fade.

The significance of context

More importantly, the details of plot revealed in a book review often mean little or nothing out of context.  Here’s an example.  In Julian Barnes’s Booker-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, there’s a twist right at the end, and it is revealed that Adrian had an affair with Veronica’s mother, and so the young Adrian is Veronica’s brother, not her son, as Tony had assumed.

My bet is that if you haven’t read the book, that sentence meant nothing to you.  I just revealed the main plot twist in one of the biggest books in recent years, and yet you’ve probably forgotten it already.  You could read the book right after reading this post, and your enjoyment would not be spoiled in the least.  The reason, of course, is that you don’t have any context.  The names Adrian, Tony and Veronica mean nothing to you, and so you have no interest in what they’ve done.  This is why novelists spend several hundred pages showering us with apparently unnecessary details.  They are giving us the context in which to create meaning and hence to care.

In any case, even if the spoiler is somehow memorable, I think it only truly spoils a small number of books.  A very simple murder mystery in which the only interest is in finding out the name of the killer would indeed be marred by knowing in advance that it was Bob.  But most books are not like that.  Most books are about far more than a simple plot twist.  I’m sure that, like me, you re-read books all the time and, far from considering them “spoiled”, you often get more out of them with each new reading.

Why spoiler-laced reviews are better

So what would happen if we all stopped worrying about spoilers?  In my opinion, literary discussions would get a lot more interesting.

Here’s some evidence for that, again involving The Sense of an Ending.  Usually when I review books on my blog, I am careful not to give away the ending.  But last year, in response to reader questions, I deliberately wrote about the ending of The Sense of an Ending (with a spoiler alert, of course!).  The response was overwhelming.  Most of my book reviews get 5 or 10 comments, maybe 20 for a popular book.  This post got more than 250 comments.  Many of them were mini-essays in themselves, and spawned long discussions in which further details were teased out.  While that post is not my best piece of writing, it does (when combined with the comments) provide a much richer analysis of the book than any of my more traditional, spoiler-inhibited efforts.

I’ve also noticed the liberating effect of spoiler-free discussions with my own novel, On the Holloway Road.  One of the best conversations I’ve had about it was with a reading group at a north London library, all of whom had read the book and so were free to talk without fear of spoilers.  They went straight for the ending: Why was it so bleak? Why did none of the characters seem to have moved forward? Couldn’t I have given them a little more redemption, a little more hope?  The same questions often come up when readers email me or talk to me individually.  Yet in all the printed and online book reviews, I don’t remember the ending being mentioned once, and a lot of interesting discussions are stillborn as a result.

So consider this post as my pro-spoiler manifesto.  On my blog this year, unless anyone can convince me otherwise, I plan to include in my book reviews whatever details I want, including twists, surprise endings, red herrings and dei ex machina.  I won’t reveal surprises just for the sake of it, but I will make sure I’m not inhibited from discussing the more interesting parts of a book simply by fear of spoilers.

Do you care about spoilers?  Let me know if you can think of a good reason why we should worry about them.  Otherwise, please join me in my spoiling revolution!

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Andrew Blackman is the author of the novel On the Holloway Road (Legend Press, 2009), in which Neil dies in the end. His next novel, A Virtual Love, is out in April.

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The Economy of Fiction

In twenty-four hours of quiet reading we can finish a long novel covering a man’s entire life. In a traditional novel, the causes and effects most important to an author are expressed. We can see the results of characters’ actions on their lives. This is a prudent use of one of our most limited resources, time.

We have, in a novel, a case-study of a particular idea or emotion. If the novel is well-written we will see real people interacting with these ideas or emotions just the way we might expect to encounter them in our own lives.

Even a novel written in a post-modern style that experiments with uncertainty is having us reflect on life and how events can be connected in other ways than cause and effect.

If a novel does its job — and if we commit to reading — our lives are not lived as one life, but instead we have the depth and experience of individuals that have lived many lives.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Marcus Povey.

Why Great Art Lies at the Centre of the Physicality-Spirituality Scale

This article was written by Aaron Pederson.

“I live a personal life of great optimism, but I look around and I don’t see a way out for this species.” – George Carlin

Ahh. George Carlin once again leading the way, showing us how all artists should perceive the world: with a mixture of cynicism and optimism.

With the rise of spirituality and the constant bombardment of new self-help books, I think we’re drowning in a deep sea of optimism.

As artists, it’s great to dip our toes in these waters—everybody needs more happiness and emotional stability. But if we’re not careful, we can become submerged in these indoctrinations. We can program ourselves in positive thinking and optimism, and unknowingly hinder the power of a healthy dose of cynicism.

As a result, our creativity gets crippled.

Now, you might disagree and say, “There’s so much spiritual art out there!” or “Spirituality fuels art—it gives it meaning!”

And I’m not fully disagreeing with you, but when you take a look at the great artworks, you see a combination of the “tangible” and the “spiritual.”

The Celestine Prophecy, for example, is a fantastic spiritual story, one that, as I get older, makes more and more sense to me. But it’s not “art.” It’s too pie-in the-sky, too perfect, and too preachy and pretentious.

(Of course, the author, James Redfield, probably didn’t intend to make art—he had a message to convey. I’m just using his book as an example.)

Great art has its realistic qualities: characters with painstaking flaws; stories with shades of ugliness, shadiness, anger, and baseness; songs with anxiety and despair; plots doused with a sense of realism.

Along with these “realistic” reflections of human nature, however, there’s also an overarching (or suggestive) “spiritual” theme, e.g. optimism or faith.

In other words, great art combines elements of “realism” and “spiritualism”—without focusing on one or the other!

An example is the song Lose Yourself by rapper Eminem. To me, this song works so well because it’s grounded in pessimism, failure, pain, ugliness, and anger—all elements of “realism.” But towards the end, we come to understand the power of self-belief, optimism, persistence, and faith—elements of “spiritualism.” The song naturally lets the spiritual elements rise through the more grounded components, without artificially manufacturing the “ethereal” too early.

The result is a song that sends mixed signals, letting us taste both the “base” and the “noble” sides of human nature. How powerful!

Here’s another example: The Shawshank Redemption. This movie tells the raw truth of what it’s like to do time in prison: you have to deal with the social politics, feelings of shame and regret, and the strange dependency you develop on the prison system. But as the story progresses (and eventually climaxes), a theme of “faith” and “optimism” prevail. This combination of the “real” and the “unreal” throws us back—and we’re moved in a deep way.

One of my favourite writers on the subject of creativity, Steven Pressfield, sees the human experience as being suspended between two worlds: the “upper” and “lower” realm.

Every time you and I sit down to work, we confront a scale that depicts these two excluded worlds. It ranges from “realism” to “spiritualism.”

As an artist, you need to be “centre-field.” Perceive and depict the world with raw honesty, in a way that transcends the “lower” realm and catches glimpses of the “upper” levels (without ascending too high up).

Let’s look at an example. In Shawshank, the protagonist escapes prison and lives out the rest of his days down south on an island. But he was never supposed to be in jail to begin with; he was innocent! The story ends happily, but there’s still a tinge of bitterness. He never escapes the angst of being human, as his innocence was never recognized and a large chunk of his life was butchered.

That’s how we feel after we’ve watched a great film, read a great book, or listened to a great song—we’re licking our “lower” realm scars, but we still get a peek into the divine, the infinite.

As Pressfield puts it, “We’re marooned in the middle.”

I believe artists should convey this experience of being stuck between two worlds, without diverging too far to one side, i.e. stay away from overly “realistic” and overly “spiritual” art.

Here’s why: if a painting or song or movie is too mechanical and realistic, it feels dull and hollow. You see examples of this in mainstream action movies. These films have cool effects and entertaining fight scenes, but the plots usually stay stuck in “base” territory. They never reach for something higher; the characters fail (for the most part) to transcend their human vileness.

Likewise, if art is too spiritual, it feels pretentious.

The answer, then, lies in a mediation of the two extremes, a balance that so beautifully conveys the bittersweet experience of being human.

I mentioned earlier that it’s crucial for your inner artist to avoid getting sucked into the growing spiritual movement because it can cloud your creative vision.

But our culture is also very materialistic and money-oriented, so it’s best to steer away from that extreme as well. Instead, you are realistic, grounded, and attune with the fine details of your work, but you also have a sense of wonder and curiosity in the divine—things you can’t perceive with your senses. You maintain hope for the human race, but you have reasonable doubt—much like George Carlin.

As an artist, we can’t lose you to blind materialism or airy spiritualism. We need you to juggle both balls, and tell us stories about what it’s like.

Next month right here on Read Learn Write, I’ll continue on this theme and suggest how the physicality-spirituality scale can impact not just our work, but also our own lives. Stay tuned!

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Aaron Pederson is a copywriter and freelance writer by trade and, in his spare time, he writes about creativity. He believes that creative people must be diligent and disciplined in their work, because if they aren’t channelling their creative energy productively their personal life can get messy. He has self-published a book called Lessons for Creative People, a short book on creative recovery. He blogs often at http://creativeethos.net about the creative spirit, and the many lessons we can learn from living he creative life. You can follow him on twitter @Creative_Ethos.

Find more information about how to contribute to Read.Learn.Write.

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Why I Started Reading

This article was written by T. Lloyd Reilly.

I read a guest post on this site several weeks ago titled “Why I stopped reading.”  The post was well written and germane to the point it was making, but I took umbrage with it.  No, I am not saying anything derogatory about the post or the author.  As I said, the post was well written, and I am glad I read it.  It was the title that fueled my ire.  It has been percolating in me since, and I felt cause to write about it.  Not as a response, but as a testament to the muse it gave me.

I am an avid reader and have been an enthusiastic reader since 1957.  That was the year I figured out what the scribbling’s on the pages of the comic books my cousin Johnny gave me read to occupy me while being babysat, just might be.  I was four years old.  In actuality the journey to enlightenment began a year earlier when I was three.  It took a year for me to discern what was fascinating to me in the pages of this oft maligned genre within the world of literature.

I remember viewing these precursors of such heroes as Spiderman, The Avengers, and the Justice League America as well as a myriad of other characters with total fascination.  Certainly the pictures would seem to be the hook for a three year old, but it was those strange squiggly lines in the round boxes that caught my eye.  Johnny told me they were words, and that I was not old enough to understand them.  I proceeded to prove him wrong.

Looking back, I am not sure how I was able to accomplish a feat such as learning my ABC’s and making the leap, first to words, and ultimately to stringing together these words to achieve the result of meaningful prose without the aid of an adult.  But I did.  My first conquest, in the latter part of 1957, was “Call of the Wild” by Jack London.  What followed is what brought me to the point that I am now, a full time writer.

The next hill I charged up in the literary battle was Edgar Rice Burroughs with his series of stories of an uncivilized man who proved to be the epitome of civilization, or at least what a civilized man should embrace as he made his way through the world.  I particularly enjoyed the description on how Lord Greytstoke would transform into the King of the Jungle by stripping off his clothes along with the vestiges of civilization.  I read every Tarzan book written.

I have maintained my affinity for comic books and pulp fiction ever since.  I have transformed into a writer of fiction and have more than one hero/superhero story line in the works. While I no longer read comic books, I do enjoy some of the attempts Hollywood has made to introduce that universe to us through films. Sadly, there has not been a true rendering of the Tarzan legend (at least not one this Purist has enjoyed).  Perhaps that might be my first foray into the world of scriptwriting. (…perchance to dream!)

The generational advance in my reading has gone much farther than those seemingly simple tomes with loud BAMS, KAPOWS, SLAMS, CRACKS, and UUUNNNHHH’s abounding.  I have ventured into the world of the Bard, delighted in Dumas, Hugo, Twain, Whitman, Kesey, Dante, Milton, Conan Doyle, Dickens, King, Shelley (Mary and Percy), Brautigan, Clancy, Stoker, Poe, Robbins (Tom), Vonnegut, Bombeck, Grisham, Follet, Higgins, Seuss, Llewylen, Faust, Irving, Chaucer, WEB Griffin, Lamour, Wells, and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  And I am not finished.

What has always enthralled me was the story.  Once I discovered words, and how they might be arranged, I needed to see how that was important in the context of reading.  I went back to the scribe’s of my beginnings into the world if reading.  It was the likes of Siegel, Shuster, Kane, and Finger who caught my attention long enough for it to become an obsession. I discerned that there had to be a point to putting these words in a certain order, and it was tales of the Man of Steel and his quest for “Truth, Justice, and the American way” that brought me clarification  The battles my Kryptonian friend fought meant something.  A wrong had to be righted.  Someone had to be saved.  The villain must be stopped.  The damsel had to be rescued from distress.  Good must triumph.  Might must to be used for right!

Existing in the world of fiction, while most attractive, could not ever provide for all that life would bring.  The realities of life must be seen to and that meant there were a vast numbers of words put together to teach me life on life’s terms.  This required that I become familiar with the scribbling’s and musings of such as Aristotle, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Newton, Curie, Edison, Ford, Magellan, Chopra, Krishnamurti, Lao Tzu, Pirsig, Gibran, Dewey, Webster, Locke, Luther, Freud, Jung, Jefferson, Lincoln, Adams, Carver, Douglas, and any number of the writings in the Old Testament.

I discovered a love in these words near equal to those of my youth, and this finding proved to be the ends that justified the means of even learning to read in the first place.  I have been fortunate to be able to sustain myself through the use of the words I keep fealty with.  Prior to achieving the full time dream of being a writer I had the gift of being employed as a school teacher, thereby enabling me to pass on the gift given me in 1957.

And to think…all these wonders came to me quite simply because my cousin wished to keep me amused and out of trouble.

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T. Lloyd Reilly is a writer with over twenty five years of writing experience. He has lived what some would consider more than one lifetime and has acquired a wide range of knowledge and life experience which he wishes to share through generous application of the written word. For more information about him go to: http://about.me/tlloydreilly.

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Across Genre Lines: Why Books that Defy Traditional Categories are a Good Thing

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

More and more often, the stories that authors choose to tell are defying traditional categories, mixing elements of multiple genres into one powerful book. I don’t know about the other readers out there, but I love it.

Potential pitfalls for writers

While writers that have yet to make a name for themselves may have trouble selling some cross-genre books and book ideas to publishers and agents, cross-genre books draw from more than one readership and many bestselling authors (Meg Cabot, Nora Roberts) have produced bestselling cross-genre books. That can mean bigger and better sales…. once everyone involved figures out how to market the book to multiple publics.

Benefits for readers

But putting aside any disadvantages for writers and publishers, cross-genre books are great for readers, because they give us the chance to expand our horizons a bit. While you’d be hard-pressed to convince me to read a straight horror novel, I’m easily convinced to read women’s fiction, or literary fiction with elements of horror, even though Bram Stoker’s Dracula gave me nightmares for months. Readers that aren’t usually up for fantasy or sci-fi might be entertained by young adult or popular fiction written about fairy-tale and fantasy characters inhabiting a world not unlike our own, living alongside normal people, not unlike ourselves.

An aside about cross genres vs. subgenres:

The people in charge of marketing at important publishing houses have declared many of the most popular cross genres subgenres. For example, fantasy characters+ romance = paranormal romance. Historical elements + science fiction + fantasy = Steampunk. Romantic relationship between protagonists + fast-paced action = Romantic Thriller.

A few examples of cross-genre books:

Genre-busting can be a powerful, awesome thing, when it’s done right. Here are a few examples:

  • There are the wildly successful Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries (made into the television series, True Blood) by Charlaine Harris
  • Then there are the Merry Gentry books (about a crime-solving fairy princess) and the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Readers that might not read straight horror, or fantasy are more likely to test their taste buds on a lighter, less strongly flavored version.
  • Self-help humor books like The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook make even a self-help hater like myself think twice about banning the genre from my lists of things to read.
  • Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos is an ideal choice for readers who don’t normally enjoy poetry—the language is exquisite, but the poems create a coherent plot from beginning to end in a way that a lot of poetry doesn’t and will satisfy readers who crave beautiful words that tell a story rather than just convey a moment in time or a particular feeling.
  • Mystical Places and Marvelous Meals: A Travel Cookbook by Sara Nieves-Grafals is a great example of one of my favorite genre-busters, travel cookbooks, or travel books with a few recipes included, like Francis Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun.

Most of my favorite purely pleasure reads are light fantasy, horror or paranormal hybridized with mystery or historical fiction, but there are many more cross-genre classics out there.

What’s your favorite mix of genres?

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Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

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