Genre confusion, part deux

Over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Genre Confusion, in which I discussed the accidental discovery of a favorite book — which might never have happened if I’d been aware that the book often gets shelved under “romance”, which is not a genre that I typically read.

The issue becomes relevant for me again with a bizarre discovery I made yesterday — or is it a discovery at all?

I started a book fresh from my NetGalley queue and was enjoying the first little bit. Then I thought I’d double-check the page count, seeing as I have a whole lot of must-read books coming up and I want to make sure to pace myself. So I went on Amazon, looked up the book, and scrolled down to the detail section — where lo and behold, I see the books categorized as “Christian fiction”.

Whoa.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against Christian fiction or its fans. But not being Christian myself nor the least bit spiritual or religious, I’m not drawn to books with a strongly faith-based or spiritual theme.

And after all, just as we all have our preferred genres, I think most of us have a list of what we won’t read as well. (For the record, mine includes courtroom dramas, extreme violence, and anything with shirtless males and/or cowboys on the cover. Or shirtless cowboys. Whatever). *

*I’d add erotica to the list, except — full disclosure — I did read the 50 Shades books. Can’t fall behind the pop culture zeitgeist, can we?

So… confusion. What to do about my current read?

I went back to NetGalley. Nope, no reference to this book being Christian fiction.

Went to the publisher’s website. Oops. They publish Bibles as well as works of inspirational fiction. Hmmm.

Went to the author’s website. She’s clearly someone of great faith — but also sounds like someone with a great literary background and a totally interesting life.

Did a Google search. Most of the early reviews for this book were by bloggers with faith-oriented blogs.

So what does this mean for me? I Googled the term “Christian fiction”. According to Wikipedia:

In North America, the Christian novel has evolved into a specific genre of its own, written explicitly by and for Christians of a particular type. Such a Christian novel does not have to involve an actual event or character in Bible history. A novel can be Christian in this sense merely because one of its characters either comes to a proper understanding of God and of man’s need for salvation from sin, or faces a crisis of his or her faith.

It goes on to say:

Deborah Bryan of the Kansas Library Association suggests that a Christian fiction writer must comply with certain restraints such as: (1) Accept the truthful authority of the Bible (2) Address dilemmas through faith in Jesus (3) Believe that Jesus died and rose for sins of all people (4) A writer is restricted from writing about certain “taboos.”. She also suggests that this genre of books typically promotes values, teaches a lesson, always has a happy ending (good prevails over evil in all books), adheres to a decency code (certain boundaries such as sexuality, strong language, and topics of such cannot be crossed), and that Christian fiction is created for defined boundaries within a particular community.

While the first paragraph above doesn’t necessarily present a problem for me, the definitions presented in the 2nd paragraph — if adhered to in a a work of fiction — would definitely make that fiction unreadable for me. Hence my current dilemma.

So far, I see nothing in the book that I’m reading that seems outside the realm of mainstream contemporary fiction. It’s the story of a young woman pursuing an education and trying to get past the traumatic events of her childhood. She also happens to be a young woman who immerses herself in classic literature as a way of shielding herself from engagement with the real world. And what I’ve read, I’ve liked. (Granted, I’ve only read about 15%, according to my Kindle — but so far, so good).

If the book continues along the path it’s on, then I think I’ll really enjoy it. I mean, I love main characters who obsess over books! What’s not to love? But if the storyline starts heading into a dogmatic, explicitly faith-based direction, then I may have a problem with it. And to a certain extent, I’d rather know now than invest more time only to be disappointed or turned off later.

And yet… if I hadn’t gone to the Amazon page, I’d have no worries and no preconceptions. So what to do?

In my earlier Genre Confusion post, I advocated for stepping outside of one’s comfort zones, exploring other shelves in the bookstore, and being open to books that sound intriguing, even if their defined genre isn’t in our go-to preferred list.

In keeping with that position, at least for now, I think I’m going to give my current read a bit more time. After all, I like what I’ve read so far, and prior to my Amazon encounter, I thought the synopsis made the book sound quite charming — and never would have known that this was considered “Christian fiction”.

Have you ever been shocked by a book’s genre? Did you ever find yourself reading a type of book that you’d swear you never read? Did you stick with it or drop it like a hot potato?

If you’ve ever had a “genre confusion” moment yourself, please share in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Genre confusion, part deux

  1. I was reading a YA book by Vikki Wakefield recently. I was convinced from the start that I was reading a Southern US renaissance gothic mystery. Until a few chapters in a few odd Australian phrases popped up.
    I googled and discovered, that yes, Wakefield is Australian and as I went along further, I saw that the book was also set in Australia and had nothing to do with the US!
    Very confusing to start with.

    • That is funny! I’ve had that type of confusion happen to me as well — reading a book published by a mainstream US publisher, then noticing cultural oddities that made me do a double-take until I realized that it was a US reprint of a book originally published overseas.

  2. That would definitely be a shock to me too! I don’t think I’ve ever encountered genre confusion but I do try to read outside of my comfort zone so I like to think I’d stick with it, at least for a while. Although if it turned out a book I was reading was unexpectedly heading into a gory horror fest or main character finds true love and then is tragically killed type of story, I think I’d have to pass. As much as I love to read different things, there are places that I just don’t want to go!

    • Definitely! In the end, I stuck with this book (it was a quick read) and I’m glad I did — but yes, there are times when books veer off into territory that I just don’t want to read about! And I still think I’d rather make an informed decision up front, at least most of the time.

  3. I know where you’re coming from. Although I’m not Christian or the slightly bit religious either, I sometimes read novels in the Christian fiction genre because the storylines or settings appeal to me. Last week I finished a novel of this type that could easily have been published as mainstream fiction. It was a “clean” story (no sex or gratuitous violence) and took place in the historical South, so there were some scenes where characters went to church – pretty much what I would have expected for that place and time. There was nothing that conflicted with Christian principles but also nothing that pushed them at the reader, either. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read overall. I’ve found there’s a lot of variety in terms of how much faith-based content is in novels published as Christian fiction, so I think that 2nd definition above is a bit too rigid.

    • I agree, and from the way you describe it, I wouldn’t mind a book like the ones you’ve mentioned. I just finished the book that prompted this post, and I’m glad I did. Yes, there was some religious content, but it fit naturally with the tone and plot of the story and made sense for the characters involved — and it in no way felt preachy or like proselytizing, which was what I’d feared.

  4. I do avoid Christian Fiction for most of the reasons in that second paragraph and because like you, I’m not really religious in that way. However, I do admit to being surprise by accidental reads. And a good example genre confusion in my life would be J R Ward’s BDB series: when I started reading them they were classified as ‘Paranormal Romance’ but the last few books in the series have been ‘Urban Fiction’ (say what? I know!). Gah. But I love her writing so much I guess I’ll just have to live with a few unhappy moments. 🙂

    • I have a few book-group friends who are simply nuts about the BDB series. I haven’t been tempted yet, but maybe someday… I’ve also had “accidental” reads turn out really well — but I still know that in a real life bookstore, there are certain sections I just walk right by. In the case of the book that prompted this post, I ended up finishing it and liked it! And yes, there did get to be a bit more talk of religion toward the end than I’d expect in a mainstream contemporary novel (and no sex or swearing), but I liked the story anyway! (Ha, that makes it sound like I only like books with sex and swearing… not really what I meant!)

      • Lol. Some people call BDB erotic fiction but I think it’s worth a try. Between J R Ward and Kresley Cole I never need to look anywhere else for paranormal hotties. 🙂

  5. I do sometimes wish that NetGalley showed us a bit more information. I’ve had to start doing a bit of research into books before I hit request, so I don’t end up with novellas when I assume I’m getting a full-length novel, or a book that’s part of a series. Full disclosure is just better for everyone involved, no?

    As for your current book (which I see from the comments is no longer current), I don’t know if I’d continue reading it or not. But I’d definitely include the genre confusion in my feedback, either as the reason I DNFd or didn’t enjoy it… or the fact that I did enjoy it despite not being predisposed not to.

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