Where two people endeavor to destroy their friendship by making each other read things the other person will most likely hate.
Not that long ago I wrote about a very awkward encounter with a therapist who literally made fun of my reading and writing tastes in the middle of our session. I’m definitely not seeing that therapist anymore, but at least writing about it sparked an interesting conversation between me and my friend Masika. Masika and I went to grad school together, so a decent portion of our friendship has always revolved around discussing books and writing. This whole “my therapist thinks my reading tastes are terrible” thing got us talking about the appreciation we both have for genre fiction: all the writing that is generally considered "not important" enough to be literature. Sci-fi. Romance. Horror. Other things you are not supposed to have on your bookshelf when "important company" comes over.
While Masika and I share a love of genre fiction, the similarity in reading taste stops there. I actively avoid genres like horror, and I'm fairly certain Masika would rather spend the rest of her life eating nothing but stale bread than spend the rest of her life reading nothing but romance.
Masika suggested we try an experiment: rec books to each other that the other person would probably never choose to read on their own and then blog about them. Given that I have basically read nothing but YA, middle grade, romance, and writing guides for the last three months straight, I figured it might be time to re-expand my horizons a bit. So Masika launched her website Glyphs to fill with her beautiful art and writing and thoughts on reading (hint hint, check it out) and we made our first recommendations. I recommended The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee, a historical queer romance written for the young adult/new adult age demographic. She suggested 14 by Peter Clines, a horror/weird fic novel. She also suggested I try it on audiobook, as audiobooks are something I almost never, ever listen to. I reluctantly downloaded Audible and so began the first round of Don't Judge a Book by it's Genre.
Read on for the results of this first experiment, and to find out if Masika and I are still speaking.
So I may have suggested the worst possible book for Masika.
A Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue is the story of a "gentlemen" in 1700s England who embarks on a tour of the continent with his best friend/crush. I would like to state for the record that when I first suggested this book I didn't realize that Masika also hates sick lit in addition to most romance writing. UH, WHOOPS. In case you haven't read The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue, it's definitely got a sick lit factor to it. I mean, it's no The Fault in our Stars, but the characters certainly have illness of the non-flu variety to overcome. This particular book also includes a frequently unlikable and occasionally unreliable narrator. I, personally, enjoyed Monty greatly. Masika did not feel the same way. Read her comments over on her blog.
As Masika's thoughts show, my rec was not a smash hit by any means, but I wasn't entirely surprised...especially once I realized that Masika actively avoids sick lit and coming of age stories. I was surprised that Masika found the plot of this book predictable and felt that the character didn't earn his redemption--I was never bored once by the plot of this book and I felt Monty's character arced quite successfully. This leaves a lot to unpack about the different ways we read character and plot and what we expect from plotlines and character development. Good thing we're launching a blog series to examine the differences in our reading tastes.
And so Masika survived reading my YA romance rec without running into any wildlife with her car. Did I survive her horror rec? Keep on to find out...
It turns out horror novels are not all filled with blood. Also I have no listening comprehension.
Masika recced me the book 14 by Peter Clines. I hate all things labeled "horror" and actively avoid this genre in general, so this book seemed like a good suggestion for our project. According to Masika, this book is a weird fic mystery within the horror genre and would hopefully dispel me of the notion that all horror is filled with mangled body parts. Masika described the plot as such: "a dude with a boring code-monkey job discovers his hidden aspirations when he moves into a building that seems to have some of its own." Okay, there's some intrigue there. I was into that. Except that she also suggested I read this one on audiobook, and quite frankly I hate audiobooks with every fiber of my being. Nothing personal against those who love them--I just don't. But hey, a challenge is a challenge. I put on my Barney Stinson face and accepted it.
My thoughts on 14 are below, and they're actually more concise than I usually am. It's a July miracle.
How did you access the book? (Audio book, paper, ebook, etc.) How would you rate the experience? * Was a specific format recommended, and why?
Masika suggested this on audiobook. I am generally not an audiobook person but I figured I’d give it a shot. That part of the experiment sort of failed. The audiobook itself was excellent--great voice acting--but I am really just not into audiobooks and couldn’t motivate myself to finish the book in that format. I ended up reading 14 in a combination of audiobook/ebook formats.
Create a standard “elevator pitch” for this book (e.g. “Star Wars” meets Moby Dick).
Hmmm. Not sure. It reminded me a lot of a Dr. Who episode. Maybe Stephen King meets Dr. Who?
How would you rate the plot? Why?
3 out of 5. Once it got going it was great, but the pacing felt very slow at the beginning.
How would you rate the character building? Why?
3 out of 5 again. Some of the characters were developed quite well...but there were many more superfluous characters in the book who seemed all but forgotten. Like this one character named Mandy. I still can’t figure out the point of her existence.
How would you rate the setting creation? Why? Was it about establishing setting or about world building?
5/5. This was definitely my favorite part of the book. The descriptive qualities in the writing were very strong.
How would you rate the work the author did creating theme? Why?
Probably 4 out of 5. This one’s tricky. The theme work felt unfinished to me...but it turns out this book is part of a series, so I now suspect that was intentional.
How would you rate the author’s choice of point of view? Why?
3 out of 5 again. The author would sometimes switch from limited to omniscient points of view. This frequently threw me off as a reader.
What impression did this book give you of the genres it’s written in?
I think I’ve always thought of horror as writing that was filled with guts and gore. This was definitely not that at all. It reminded me that the horror genre is bigger than I give it credit for, and it showed me ways that horror can successfully merge with other genres to create an even bigger and more successful world for itself.
Does this book make you want to read more from the author?
Yes. I think I'm going to give the sequel a shot.
Does this book make you want to read more within this genre?
It definitely made me want to check out more horror writing.
Would you recommend this book to others?
Yes, I think so. I’d definitely recommend the audiobook to those who really like audiobooks. The narrator for the audiobook was fantastic. It’s too bad I apparently have the listening comprehension of a goldfish.
So, yes. I read a horror novel and I didn't die (though it is distinctly possible some characters did). I may actually read more horror in the future. I will definitely seek out more from Peter Clines, as this book reminded me a lot of a Dr. Who episode, and I'm having withdrawal now that Amazon Prime won't let me access the Jodi Whittaker episodes.
One interesting thing Masika pointed out is as we were talking about these books is that I likely missed many of the "Easter eggs" in this book, particularly the references to H.P. Lovecraft's work, and that may be why the book felt unfinished to me when it did not to her. Genre fiction is fascinating to me in its ability to build upon itself and create niches and holes for its readers through repeated expectations, tropes, plot lines, and allusions. I no doubt missed many allusions while reading 14. (Apparently the number of legs the cockroaches have means something...?) And Masika told me during the course of this process that she just straight up dislikes the "happy ending" requirement of the romance genre. Reading a genre begets more or less reading of the genre, depending on your interests and expectations, and these interests and expectations can change over time the more you read within a genre. That's something I never forget when I recommend books to students, but sometimes I forget it when choosing my own reading material. The "happy ending" element of the romance novel is something I love about that genre--but why? Did my love of happy endings lead to the love of the romance genre, or was it the other way around?
And just like that, the first round of Don't Judge a Book by its Genre is over. Now I'm off to Australia, where any blogging I do will likely be about kangaroos. While I'm there, I'll be reading Masika's next rec, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. Masika says she suggested it because this book is centered on thoughts and avoids feelings--and Masika knows how much I love a reading world mired in feelings. I, therefore, suggested she read a book that made me cry at least nine times: Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. We'll see if Masika can handle the emotional upheaval that appears every two sentences in that book. Watch this space, and in the meantime, go check out Masika's corner of the internet.