When Books Bust Your Genre Prejudices

Kit Steinkellner

Staff Writer

Kit Steinkellner is a playwright, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher. She also writes about books and reading  at Books Are My Boyfriends. Follow her onTwitter: @BooksAreMyBFs

If you throw a vampire book at my face, I will throw a wooden stake at your chest. If you try to get me to read a zombie novel, I will try to eat your brains. If you sneak a dystopian YA tome in my TBR pile, I will sneak tracker jackers into your underpants. I have a lot of problems with these genres. Vampire books feel over-commercialized, zombie novels, derivative, and dystopian YA, oh dystopian YA, so often these novels feel like a four-year old heard her parents talking about North Korea and then went upstairs to her bedroom to reenact the convo with her Barbie dolls.

That said, I read a book in each of these genres recently that I dug hard. Which makes me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of Christmas Carol when he’s running around London screaming “I’M ALIVE AND IT’S CHRISTMAS.” Which is good, because these genres were really starting to make me feel like Scrooge in the beginning of the book when he wants Cratchit to work on Christmas and Tiny Tim to die or whatever.

World_War_Z_book_coverWorld War Z by Max Brooks

Okay, the thing I don’t like about zombie novels is they tend to all feel the same to me. Small band of people (seemingly always led by a dude) come together to try to fend off swarming undead, at some point everyone realizes that the remaining humans are way more evil than the zombies, shenanigans. Look, I KNOW there are variations, but the variations don’t vary enough for me.

World War Z is nothing BUT variations on genre. It’s an oral history (such a smart device), set after “the zombie war,” and follows a journalist as he circumnavigates the globe, interviewing international survivors from all walks of life about their experiences during the war. This book is so deeply imagined and grounded in reality that I found myself looking out the window for zomby armies for DAYS after. Equal parts brainy and brawny, this book is a one-bullet shot to the brain (which, incidentally, is how you kill a Z).



radleys matt haigThe Radleys
by Matt Haig

I listened to this on audiobook because the recs were so solid. But I had my doubts! A family of suburban vampires? It helped that they were British suburban vampires, but still, this premise just felt like it was trying way too hard to be an edgy cable drama.

My doubts were so off base. I loved this novel. Equal parts mordantly funny and deeply sad, I thought this book did a magnificent job of using vampirism to explore the pros and cons of modern, first world, middle class human life. The family, awkward teens and ennui-riddled middle-aged parents have a faceted relationship with their monster selves. Being vampires are what they are most afraid of being AND what they most desperately want to be. It’s a grounded and real family drama. If Franzen and Hornby were friends and decided to write a vamp novel, it might come out something like this. I can’t wait to read more of Haig.



images-14Legend by Marie Lu

I am so mean about dystopian YA. I do a great one-woman show parody of the genre that involves me running around screaming “The United States is called something else now! We’re all poor but I’m still wearing a prom dress! Even I don’t understand the world-building and I live here! Love is illegal but NO ONE KNOWS WHY!”

I think I’m so mean about the genre because every time I crack a dystopian YA open I secretly hope it’s going to be The Giver and it’s always not.

That said, I super-enjoyed Legend by Marie Lu. It’s like the Disney cartoon Aladdin meets Javert and Valjean’s relationship in the movie-musical version of Les Miserables set in dystopic downtown Los Angeles. This book is fun times. And the world building is actually good!  I will say this, I had my fill after book 1, I don’t feel like I HAVE to read books two and three. I think that’s important to say. It’s also important to say I usually don’t make it past the first CHAPTER in this genre, so well played, Legend, well played my friend.

Have you read any books lately you liked in a genre you’re usually just the meanest girl about?


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