Genre blocks?

After reviewing The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, I found myself doing some readerly soul-searching. Why, exactly, don’t I enjoy Gothic novels or soap operas?

I know I’m turned off by constant plot twists and hyped-up interpersonal drama, and I tend to get exasperated with soap opera characters because their behavior bears so little resemblance to the way actual human beings act. But … does someone who reads as much sci-fi and fantasy as I do get to complain about lack of realism in a book? It seems almost hypocritical, really. Hand me a book with spaceships and talking spiders and I’ll happily suspend disbelief, but if a soap opera character experiences a miraculous recovery from incurable paralysis I’m all, “ugh, like that happens in real life.”*

I’m starting to wonder if I just have a genre block when it comes to melodrama. I know I’m not the only one who can’t seem to get into a particular genre. For example, I don’t really see my mother, who loves thoughtful novels about families and friends, liking anything with a spaceship on the cover. My best friend rolls her eyes at miserable anti-heroes but loves a good Jane Austen romp. And I’ve met more than a few people who dismiss all fantasy as “dragon-ridden crap.” (For the record, I don’t think it’s bad to have a genre block, but let’s try not to be snobs about it, OK?)

Do you have a genre block? And do you think there are any Gothic or soap-opera-y novels that might win me over despite my prejudices?

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* This is the key reason why I haven’t watched any Downton Abbey this season. It went from “superior period drama” to “soap opera with antique clothes” with alarming speed.

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9 comments on “Genre blocks?

  1. jtoufar says:

    Urgh. I hate soap opera-y crap too. I think because it is just annoying when people jerk my emotions around. Anything with gratuitious sex (on screen or in books. Same reason why I cannot get into Game of Thrones HBO Series). Sci-Fi, which is weird because I love Fantasy but not Sci-Fi and it annoys me when people confuse the two. Sci-Fi isn’t escapism to me. It borders scarily on future realism. Omg, I can go on and on and on.

    • Roger Ebert used to talk about the Idiot Plot — “Any plot containing problems that would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots.” I feel like the Idiot Plot is a mainstay of soap operas. Just ask your boyfriend if he made out with your evil twin sister while they were imprisoned in Count Scaryname’s lair, already!

      • I have decided you need a “recommend a book to me link button or post or something”. I am in the middle of Bone Season and I have decided you will love it. Are you on goodreads by the way?

        • Ooh, that’s a good idea! I sort of solicit recommendations on my “Upcoming Reviews” page, but I doubt anyone sees it there. I’ll check out Bone Season, it sounds very intriguing.

  2. Grace says:

    My biggest genre blocks are romance (although weirdly erotica is fine) and contemporary novels. For some reason I get bored reading about lives that are too similar to my own, and would rather read about giant robots eating things.

    • That’s interesting that romance doesn’t interest you but erotica does! I haven’t read all that much erotica, but my impression has been that romance novels tend to portray hetero couples in traditional gender roles, while erotica is more diverse/progressive. Does that scan with what you’ve read?

      I’m with you on the contemporary novels. I recently tried to read a very good book about intergenerational family issues, but it was just way too close to my own experience — I couldn’t get into it. The realistic fiction I like best tends to involve scenarios or places that I’ve never experienced, like The Last Chinese Chef.

  3. cransell says:

    I have blocks too – I can’t read anything really scary (no Stephen King for me). I also dislike a lot of contemporary fiction (too depressing). I don’t read a lot of stuff by/overwhelmingly about men (I could never into The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, even though everyone loved it for example). I like science fiction – but mostly just time travel stuff (I also really like historical fiction). I like fantasy, but only with really kick-ass female protagonists. I think it’s okay to like what you like. I do try to push myself a little now and then, but I don’t think I’m missing out in life by reading things I enjoy. So many books!

    P.S. Have you read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield? That gets described as gothic, which I don’t usually like either, but I thought it was really good.

    • I have read The Thirteenth Tale! I really liked it. I think it had just the right number of plot twists and an actual mystery that kept me guessing. I like ghost-story Gothic better than soap-opera Gothic, apparently.

      I also tend to lose interest when a book is a total (for lack of a better word) sausage-fest. I can get into a really good historical novel about trench warfare, but Hemingway? Not for me.

  4. […] Genre blocks Are there genres or themes that you never like to read? What are your reading blocks? I really liked this post and the subsequent comments about what we choose to read (and what we never pick up). […]

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