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December 12, 2014

On Grinchery and Book Snobbery


Holiday season is a time of giving --- also of consumerism and incessantly peppy songs that play on repeat. Even if you’re generally an agreeable person, it’s a time of year that can bring out your inner Grinch.


In the book world, this manifests in the form of turning your nose up at certain books. We all do it. No matter how open-minded you may be, every reader has books or genres they automatically dismiss.


Sometimes this is for rational reasons. Maybe you avoid maudlin family sagas because you’ve got one of your own and don’t like to re-live it in fiction. Or, maybe you avoid Nicholas Sparks because he is Nicholas Sparks.


And sometimes it is for irrational reasons. Maybe you avoid books with protagonists named Clive because you once dated a guy named Clive. Or, you avoid books with dragons in them just because you hate dragons.


Whatever reasons you may have for your dismissal, here are some common tropes and genres you might dismiss --- and reasons to give them a second chance.



The type of book: The Old Fashioned Buttoned-Up Gothic


Why it can attract Grinchery: For every reader who loves heroes like Mr. Rochester or Heathcliff, there is another reader who finds them to be insufferable asses. If you are in the second category of readers, then you probably skip novels of this ilk. Byronic heroes abound; brooding around moors and the cold halls of manor homes. Also, the prose tends towards the stiffly formal.


The one you should give a chance: REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier

If you don’t like Mr. Rochester or Heathcliff, chances are you probably still won’t like Maxim de Winter. Although REBECCA is in the same vein as its predecessors, it’s almost the weird fiction version of the buttoned-up gothic. It’s nuttier, creepier, and more unexpectedly humorous.


The type of book: The Slice Of Life Suburban Angst and Dysfunction


Why it can attract Grinchery: These tend to delve into Lifetime-worthy histrionics, or wax poetic for 20 pages about a broken plate symbolizing the cracks in a seemingly happy family. Or, if they take a satirical approach, they risk turning characters into cardboard cutouts with no inner lives.


The one you should give a chance: LITTLE CHILDREN by Tom Perrotta

Perrota expertly navigates the difficult line between inviting us to laugh at his characters and inviting us to view them tenderly, between making them "types" and giving them inner lives. His writing is witty, sharp, insightful, funny and poignant. As I mentioned in my last post, he didn’t quite nail THE LEFTOVERS, but he did nail this one.


The type of book: The Mismatched Buddy Adventure


Why it can attract Grinchery: Much like movies of the same nature, the tropes can be tiresome. An unlikely pair is thrown together and undergoes series of wacky situations: their inevitable progression from antagonism to friendship can make for a predictable conclusion.


The one you should give a chance: CITY OF THIEVES by David Benioff

The unlikely pair at the center of this World War II-era tale is engaging and their story has the perfect balance of humor and pathos. Even if you normally avoid odd-couple buddy tales, try this one.


The type of book: Supernatural Teens Fall in Love


Why it can attract Grinchery: In recent years, these kinds of books have risen to prominence, igniting a storm of critical derision that has turned them into pop-culture punch lines. Their often subpar writing does not help, and many contain characters that make you want to slap them.


The one you should give a chance: A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT by Laurie Whitcomb

The prose is mature and evocative, skating between beautiful descriptions and gritty realistic dialogue. The supernatural elements are well rendered, and the love story manages to capture the thrill of discovery without dissolving into sap.


The type of book: The Graphic Novel


Why it can attract Grinchery: Graphic novels are just glorified comics, aren’t they? Comics are for children. Adults read novels.


The one you should give a chance: WATCHMEN by Alan Moore

I myself was guilty of this Grinchery line of thought, until I read this classic. It’s the ultimate gateway to graphic novels if you are under the impression that they can’t possibly have as much depth as novels.


What types of books do you usually turn your nose up at? What do you think naysayers should take a second look at? Share with us via Twitter or Facebook.