Genre v. Format

Mom,

Your post yesterday left me feeling strangely at a loss, and it took me a while to figure out why, but I think it is because Chance and Lesesne (at least to judge from their powerpoint) seem to be confusing genre with format.  Of the books I’ve read in their powerpoint, not one of them is actually a “genre-blend.”  To take the most obvious first, as every fan of graphic novels know – they are a format, not a genre.  You can (and always have) had GNs in any possible genre – “graphic novel” just refers to the way in which the story is presented, with a combination of visual and textual elements.  That takes care of the first four books mentioned by Chance and Lesesne, plus Chopsticks, which is just a different version of a graphic novel.

The others that I know a little about–Lies, Knives . . ., Cinder, and In a Glass Grimmly–are all straightforward fairy tale retellings – or to use their proper genre name, “fairy tales.”  That is to say, all fairy tales are retellings, and changing the setting or characters a little bit (or even a lot) is just part of the identity of that genre.  Lies, Knives . . . does have a unique way of telling its stories, but that is again a format issue–using brief prose poems instead of a more traditional narrative style.  None of this is to take away from the importance of formal experimentation.  In fact, I’m much more interested in format-blending than genre-blending as a topic–and I think that Chopsticks is one of the most interesting books of the year because of its formal characteristics.  But your topic was genre-blending, so let’s talk about that.

I’m also wary of talking about speculative fiction blending genres with political or social satire, since that is, again, at the very heart of what all good speculative fiction does.  Even when the author herself is unaware of it, basically all speculative fiction is really about ideas and events that are happening in the author’s and reader’s present world.  So, what are we talking about when we say books are blending genres?  A better example might be something like the Realistic Fantasy we were talking about a few weeks ago, where authors try to combine fantasy stories with the trappings of realistic fiction.  Or, novels that combine historical fiction and fantasy, like Elizabeth Fama’s Mostrous Beauty or Sarah Zettel’s Dust Girl.  Does YA do a better job of this than Children’s or Adult Literature?  I certainly share your instinct that teens are more willing and able to cross genre boundaries between books and within books than your average child or adult.  On the other hand, my instincts tell me that formal experimentation is much more common in adult literature (particularly in what used to be called post-modern literature) than in YA, so perhaps that is why it seemed so interesting to Chance and Lesesne – because it is a new aspect to YA Lit, while we’ve been living with varying degrees of genre-blending in YA for a long time.

Mark

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