DIRTY SECRET: 4 “Genre” Novels Worth Your Time


I’m not entirely sure why I was asked to write this or to generate this list.  I haven’t read a lot of what is considered “genre” fiction although I’m gaining greater breadth in this area these days.  It’s probably because I’m less snooty about books than is the venerable editor.  There’s also the possibility that I simply know more about various types of writing than he does – but that’s a question for another time.  In no particular order, and having made a vow not to type the name of a famous character whose initials are “H.P.,” I give you my four favorite “genre” works.  One of the best things about these books is that half of them have at least one sequel; there’s nothing like seeing a character get juicier the longer you know her!
1. Outlander (and its sequels) by Diana Gabaldon.  First of all, Gabaldon’s protagonist, a young British woman fresh out of nursing on the battlefields of World War II, is one of the most complex heroines I’ve ever met.  She’s bold and brave, smart and sassy, but not to the point of being a caricature, which is rare.  Gabaldon writes solid fiction that moves at a perfect pace most of the time and she has fewer annoying writers’ foibles than most.  The historical part of the storyline tends to drag a bit around the fourth and fifth works in the series (particularly The Fiery Cross, which I didn’t finish) but the pace picks up again in the sixth novel.  I like these books so much that I’m actually re-reading the first one right now even though it’s been only six or seven months since I read it the first time!
2. White As Snow by Tanith Lee.  Fans of fantasy and sci-fi have altars built to Tanith Lee and I can see why after reading this book!  Her storytelling is vivid yet surreal and the darkness of the tale just gets deeper and deeper until you begin to wonder how much darker it can get.  The happily-ever-after isn’t a given in this story – not just because the original Snow White story didn’t have a happy ending but also because the characters are far too interesting – lurid, even – to allow something so trite.
3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith.  Somehow I imagine that Jane Austen would appreciate this story were she living today.  I have tried to read Jane Austen and the only one of her novels I’ve been able to slog my way through was Mansfield Park.  I’ve watched the BBC movie version of Pride and Prejudice, though, and Grahame-Smith has hit on every key point with such exactitude that I kept laughing out loud while I was reading.  The illustrations enhance the experience.  It’s fantastic to see Miss Elizabeth Bennett kicking a little ass.
4. The Golden Compass (first in a trilogy – published in the UK as Northern Lights) by Phillip Pullman.  Preadolescent Lyra Belacqua, our recalcitrant heroine, is one of the greatest characters in all of fiction.  She makes mousy Meg Murray of A Wrinkle in Time appear spineless.  Pullman has garnered acclaim for this trilogy because the writing is vibrant, the theme compelling – and he has been the target of religious groups who dislike his portrayal of religion. I find his secular message to be a beautiful paean to humanism.
Genre gets a lot of heat, which is peculiar considering such literary travesties as The Confederacy of Dunces not only being published but winning prizes. Seriously? As the great Chabon might say, “Don’t genre hate, congratulate.” I mean, reading Beckett is well and good, but it just isn’t any fun.
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