Genres Across The Lifespan

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

Psychologists divide the lifespan into parts: infancy, childhood, adolescence, middle age, late middle age, and seniority. I am that so-called “sandwich generation,” meaning I am the 40-something lunchmeat between my young children and my aging parents (who are in their 70s and are now living with me).  The intersection and interaction of all these ages can be head-spinning Venn diagram, let me tell you.

But being bookish I realized, hey, that’s funny: We all seem like literary genres.

I’m totally nonfiction, trying to get everyone to eat their vegetables and sweeping the floor after dinner with a broom. Maybe I’m also the classic beginning to a fairy tale. Where is my fairy godmother?

Anyway, it seems to me each age has a particular genre of literature that speaks uniquely to the experience of being 9, or 90. So here they are, in my opinion, based on my experience. Add your thoughts.

Early childhood: Fairy tales, tall tales, fables, myths, illustrated books, books other people read to you because they remember liking them when they were young like Pat the Bunny. 

Childhood: Ego-centric autobiography. Animal friendships. Anything by Maurice Sendak.

Late childhood: Graphic novels. Animal drama. Books about farts. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The Magic Treehouse series. Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and The Motorcycle.

Pre-Tween: Expository essays. Single points of view. Hair-dos. Dragons. Elves.

Tween: Horror. Mystery.

Teen: Humor. Sci-fi. Fantasy, with elves having sex. You start getting loyal to particular authors. Everything by David Sedaris. George R.R. Martin. Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. 

Early Adulthood:  Big, Important Novels. Show-off reading. Reading you think will get you laid. All the Russians, or all of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Italian modernist works in translation.

Adulthood: Nonfiction. Parenting magazines in the check-out isle at the grocery store. The nutrition labels on formula at Costco. Self-help. Wine writing.

Late adulthood: Biography. History. War. Religion. Joseph Campbell. Karen Armstrong. Folklore.

Senior: Magical realism. Classics. Books you loved when you were a child. Treasure Island. Seabird by Holling Clancy Holling. So it has pictures? You’re old enough to not give a fig what anyone thinks! Kipling. Madeline L’Engle.