The first time I saw a ‘paranormal romance’ section in a bookstore, I remember thinking, ‘That’s not right. That isn’t a genre!’
To be clear, this was not a judgement against paranormal romance, although I do take issue with paranormal romance. But that wasn’t what this was about. This was about my perception of what it meant for something to be a ‘genre.’
It was also what got me to actually stop and reevaluate my perceptions on genre.
I’ve spent oodles and oodles of time in bookstores and libraries, and for most of my childhood it didn’t even occur to me to wonder why the books were divided up the way they were. I knew where the ‘good’ stuff was. YA section had a lot of different stuff to try, and when I wanted a more intense read, I went to the science fiction section.
The ‘proper’ sections, of course, were sf/f, mystery, thriller, romance, horror, humor, western, historical… what am I missing? I mean, sure, there’s the nonfiction section, but I never really paid attention to that, at least, not to browse. If I headed over to nonfiction it was for something specific, and I was in and out as fast as I could go.
But genres… if you really think about them, they don’t make much sense. I mean, horror and humor and romance make sense together, and science fiction and western and historical make sense… although, technically, shouldn’t western be a category of historical?
It’s perfectly possible for a novel to be both science fiction and romance, or horror. Technically it could be a science fiction horror romance, although in those cases it’s usually either more of a horror with elements of romance, or more of a romance with elements of horror. But the point is, some genres seem to describe the tone of the book, while others describe the setting. Why? Why not just go with one division or another.
It wasn’t until I read my fifth or six paranormal romance, and got pissed off by it, that the truth hit me.
So, circling back to my earlier comment about having an issue with paranormal romance, I would like to say, for the record, that the first time I read a paranormal romance I enjoyed it immensely. I think it was a the first Sookie Stackhouse novel. The second time I read one, I thought it was pretty damned good. I honestly have no idea what the second one was. Third book, fine. By the fourth book I was starting to sense a pattern. Hey, call me slow if you must, but please keep in mind that, at the time, I didn’t think of these as ‘paranormal romance,’ I was reading fantasy novels. A whole bunch of fantasy novels. And i was reading them interspersed with fantasy novels that were distinctly not paranormal romance. So I wasn’t reading and thinking, ‘hmm, this reminds me of those other paranormal romance, doesn’t it?’ I was reading it and thinking, ‘you know, there’s a lot here that’s in that other book I read… which one was that?’
Eventually, though, it clicked. The pattern became obvious. There is a woman who has suffered and had a hard time making meaningful connections in the ‘normal’ world. Somehow she finds herself dealing with the supernatural world. it is large and frightening with big beautiful men in it and they all tell her that she is special, unique, important. And they’re right. Now she has to choose between this man who is dangerous and powerful and lusty, and this man who is dangerous and powerful and lusty.
Every once in a while they’d throw a curveball. Maybe she’d have to choose between three men. Maybe she’d have to choose between a man and a woman. Maybe she would have these supernatural powers. Maybe she was just ‘special.’
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Men have their own version of it. It’s the harry potter/starwars/matrix story. You have an orphan who desperately wishes to lead a life less ordinary. One day he finds out that he is in fact special. His parents were not just anybody, they were part of the great war between good and evil, and he has a destiny to fulfill. First he must study under this great teacher. Then he must battle his own fears and doubts, finally he must confront the person who killed his parents. (also, for the record, I know that neither paranormal romance nor the starwars/potter/matrix stuff is JUST for men or JUST for women, but it does seem that one is more directed at men and the other more directed at women)
I get it. These things repeat themselves for a reason, and the reason is that they pull at the heart strings. That’s fine. But I’m glad that I can usually identify which books are paranormal romance now, because I can avoid rereading the story that I’ve read fifteen times already, and find a book that’s more my speed.
And that, I guess, is what genre is all about. It isn’t meant to be a perfect divider making it obvious for the bookseller which book should go where, it’s meant as a tool for the reader, to make it easier to find their next book, something that is more or less in the same vein as that last thing that they read and loved.
Which is kind of why I think that we need to reexamine genres again. the tools provided by the internet age have given us the ability to repaint our lines, and I think it’s nearly time.
Okay, sorry, now I’m just rambling. I’m tired. it’s late…. just thinking out loud. Quietly.