The problem with book “genre” is that sometimes readership can be constrained by what people think a book may or may not be about. Yes, a book labeled as science fiction will more than likely contain fantastical elements that are beyond current technological capability (I like to keep an open mind), but what about books like The Time Traveler’s Wife which is about so much more than time travel or romance, or The Book Thief which, although narrated by the personification of death, explores themes that extend beyond just contemporary fantasy.
Here is a list of books that you might not otherwise read but should because they have more to offer than the genre they are relegated to (including the two titles mentioned previously as a sneaky bonus).
Click here to check out the great blog review for The Book Thief posted previously here on Book Talk.
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, is more accurately described as five percent science fiction, forty percent love story, and a lovely piece of speculative, character-driven literature the remaining fifty-five percent. It follows the story of Henry, a librarian afflicted with a genetic disorder that forces him to time travel involuntarily, and Clare, an artist who seems to be an anchor for many of Henry’s temporal jaunts, gently weaving their threads together into something thought-provoking, suspenseful, and original.
My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park, by Steven Kluger, is a wicked-funny, thoughtful, and heart-fuzzy novel that explores the last two years of high school (and adjacent personal lives) of three students, told creatively and expertly through a collection of letters, essays, and personal electronic correspondences. Sometimes categorized with the LGBT genre (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) for teens, My Most Excellent Year is really about friendship, family (the ones we choose as much as the ones we are born with), and life, with a healthy dash of baseball and musical theatre thrown in for kicks.
Also check out Kluger’s Last Days of Summer, just as hilarious and touching and brilliant as My Most Excellent Year, and which some might assign to historical sports fiction, but presents similar themes of family beyond the typical definition of the word, reluctant life-long friendship, and the diabolical ingenuity of youth.
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly, is often listed as fantasy, and it mostly is, with books that whisper their stories out loud, doorways into other worlds, and a sinister antagonist who reigns over a dark and twisted kingdom, but these things are also somehow reflections of the young David’s internal and emotional struggles to cope with the loss of his mother, the ongoing war (WWII), and his new stepmother. Definitely not for children, The Book of Lost Things is like a dark fairy tale for adults, but rooted in reality with well-written suspense and excellent prose.
Connolly has also written a series of novels grouped under the crime fiction label, featuring an ex-cop, Charlie Parker, as the protagonist, with supernatural and horror-esque elements that would appeal to fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs). The first book in this on-going series is titled Every Dead Thing, with an eleventh installment to be released late summer, 2012.
Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable, by Mark Dunn, is a bit of a mind-bending literary puzzle. Set on a fictitious island off the coast of South Carolina where the panagram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is described to have originally been coined by a native, Nevin Nollop, preserved in reverent memorial on a plaque which is slowly disintegrating with age. As each letter of the panagram falls from the plaque, the town’s government bans the use of that letter so it cannot be used in speech or writing. The novel is written in an epistolary form that creatively and hilariously makes use of an ever shortening alphabet as the inhabitants try to find a solution before things get really insane. Or just really, really quiet.
The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton, upon first perusal might be mistaken for a crime novel but it’s another one of those gems that is what they say it is and yet is so much more. The story follows Michael, a young man who holds the unique occupation known in the shadow-world of thieves and lawbreakers of “boxman,” that is, a safe cracker, someone who can open a safe without the combination. Michael also happens to be mute, silent for over ten years since a horrific childhood tragedy stole his voice and the normal life he might have lived, now ghosting along the outskirts of society as an uncommonly skilled lock artist. Through Michael’s silent, eloquent narrative his story dives into a thrilling world of crime, yes, but also into an engrossing journey to find home, identity, love, and maybe the voice he lost as a child.
Click any one of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve a copy today!