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Armchair Bea: on literary genres

BEAToday’s topic for BEA Armchair is where I nail my colours to the literary mast. The question is: What fictional genre do you most love – or hate?

The answer for me is quite simple: I’m a realist fan to the core. In a bookstore or library, I steer well clear of shelves categorised as ‘romance’ or ‘ science fiction’. I know they have a huge fan following but they leave me completely cold.

I read some romance stuff when I was younger, usually because it was lying around in a friend’s house and there was nothing else to read or because someone in school said “you must read this’.  But it all feels like the same story just with different character names and locations. Any book that has a cover like this has me running in the opposite direction.

romance 2

Even worse would be anything in this vein

romance

It’s not that I have an aversion to good looking men but those rippling muscles didn’t get there by accident. He’s going to be spending so many hours at the gym he’s hardly likely to have time to spare for me is he? And if you’ve watched any of these guys in the gym, you’ll know that they like nothing more than standing in front of the mirror admiring their muscles.

I want to read about real people, the kind that I could conceivably meet in the street. They have real sounding names (ones that authors have spent considerable time agonising over so they sound authentic) and do ordinary things – they are not always flying off to some exotic destination to fix world hunger or solve the Middle East crisis but instead have to do the supermarket run or worry about their ageing mum and the cost of healthcare. They have real problems, and real concerns.

The kind of books I want to read are ones I can relate to, not because I know that part of the world where they are located, or because I have experience of the culture of the central characters. But because they engage my interest in things which are common to us all as humans – to use a phrase from one of my favourite films Shadowlands: “We read to know we’re not alone”.

That doesn’t mean my favourite kind of reading is always about portentous issues or the style is sombre. One of the best reads for me this year so far has been Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou – a very funny novel about a bunch of characters in a dilapidated Congolese bar. They’re no hopers who have an exaggerated sense of their own importance but as much as we laugh at them, there is a part of their story which makes us realise that their own experience might easily have been ours.

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