[9 June 2010]
Vampire fic may be on it’s way out (God rest its black, shriveled soul), but some “trends” have survived long enough to make it big, i.e. get dedicated shelf space in bookstores. Looking to broaden your reading horizons? Here are five of the top trends-to-sub-genres staking out shelves in a bookstore near you.
1. Chick Lit
Lighthearted and easy-going, chick lit is the paper version of Friends. Every now and then it addresses a big issue (divorce, empty-nesting, single life), but in a witty and amusing way. Although some folk consider Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights the beginning of the genre, most agree Helen Fielding’s 1996 novel Bridget Jones’ Diary defined modern chick lit and brought it into the mainstream.
Trivia: Jane Austen could be considered the mother of chick lit. Much of the genre—Bridget Jones included—has been influenced and inspired by her books.
Reading List: Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Devil Wears Prada, The Not So Perfect Man, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Good in Bed, 4 Blondes, (retroactively) Pride & Prejudice, Emma
Short for cozy mystery, these novels are easy to slide into, with just enough intrigue to spice up the core of the story: relationships. Like CSI-lite, most cozies focus on the motivations behind a crime, skimming over the more gruesome details. Main characters are usually well-educated or intelligent, likeable, and connected to the police or a private detective in some way. Many popular cozy mysteries are British exports, and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels are widely considered the first of the genre. Some cozies combine crafts and hobbies, such as knitting or cooking, with the mystery element, and even provide knitting patterns or recipes at the end of the book.
Trivia: Historical fiction cozy mystery crossovers are fast becoming popular, as in Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries and Fiona Buckley’s Elizabethan England-set Ursula Blanchard books.
Reading List: Miss Marple series, Pennsylvania Dutch mysteries, The Sudoku Murder, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder
3. Historical Fiction
Historical novels are one of the oldest genres around, with the first extant story appearing around the 11th century BC. Playing into a common interest in real events—and our love of kings and queens—historical fiction most often dramatizes famous events or the lives of famous persons. Authors spend significant time researching time periods to provide historical flavor while maintaining accessible contemporary language. Although plot and significant events are important in contemporary historical fiction, most popular authors—particularly those writing about famous persons—focus on personal events and relationships first, and plot events second. Historical fantasy, a fast growing subset of historical fiction, is also quite popular.
Trivia: Alternate histories, novels with a divergent plot point (JFK surviving, the Irish never discovering whiskey) are a separate genre to historical fiction, and usually filed under science fiction.
Reading List: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Name of the Rose, Pillars of the Earth, Silence, Masters of Rome, The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Penelopiad
4. Political Thriller
Full of deceit and intrigue, political thrillers are essentially thrillers with a political power struggle backdrop. Most make use of well-known tensions, such as the US & Russia, US & Cuba, and US & the UK, China & everyone else, the Middle East and everyone else, East Germany & West Germany, Europe & any single European power, Businesses & the People. World War II settings are also common, and UK-Commonwealth/Colonial novels are beginning to appear, too. Still confused? Erik Lundegaard a writer and reviewer for MSNBC.com and The Huffington Post, defines a political thriller as “an ordinary man pulling an innocent thread which leads to a mess of corruption. The corruption should be political or governmental in nature. The movie should be plot-driven. There should be thrills.”
Trivia: 1960s cinema brought political thrillers to the fore (Cuban Missile Crisis for the win!). Today, though, political thrillers are disappearing from Hollywood, and junkies are turning to the novel, arguably a better vehicle for a genre that often requires extra information and a lot of behind the scenes time.
Reading List: Moscow Rules, Patriot Games, The Interior, The Camel Club, Transfer of Power, The Firm
5. Magic Realism
Despite the “magic” tag, magic realism isn’t about Tolkien-style elves and goblins, but rather rediscovering magic in the world as it is. The style is very subjective (as opposed to objective) and characters are usually trying to find mystery and wonder in the everyday. Stories tend to be character driven and explore new and/or unusual perspectives. Although many readers consider it fantasy, magic realism is a separate entity—it’s about realism rather than speculation. (See my other post on what it is and why it matters here.) Technically, magic realism is a literary mode rather than a genre, though it’s treated as a genre in most bookstores (which is why it made this list).
Trivia: Magic Realism, or New Objectivity, started out as a post-expressionist kind of visual art. Sometime in the 1930s, writers started experimenting with it.
Reading List: One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Ice Queen, Reservation Blues, My World Is Not Of This Kingdom