Literary Indigestion

This won’t be the first time I’ve said I love fantasy and have since I was a kid.  During the ’80’s, I read scores of fantasy novels, but the day finally came when I couldn’t anymore.  One too many recycled plots, wise wizards, crusty dwarves, plucky youths, heroic thieves, feisty tavern wenches, and so on.  I developed acute genre indigestion and have only recently started reading adult fantasy again.

History repeats itself.

A dozen years ago, I discovered young adult fantasy and delighted in some of the characters and stories.  Inspired by these, I even wrote my own first novel in just six months, in 2005.  Recently, however, YA fantasy has been “discovered.”  Now I find I can’t read this genre either; bandwagons and the perception of money and names to be made don’t lead to books with much imagination or heart.

A glut of vampire romance was followed by a glut of stories of Faerie and zombies.  After the success of The Hunger Games, “dystopian” tales became the theme du jour.  Now stories of were-beasts are all the rage.  I sometimes wonder if I am a snob or too harsh in my judgements, so I yesterday I took a look at the YA fantasy titles featured on Amazon.  Here are some descriptions I found in the blurbs:

“A lyrical tale of werewolves and first love.”  – I gotta say it, “Awwww!”

“explodes onto the YA scene with a brilliant nail-biter of a dystopian adventure.”  –  Think about the phrase, “YA scene.”

“A kidnapped wolf pup with a rare strain of canine parvovirus tuns regular kids into a crime solving pack.”  –  I’m a sucker for dog stories, and I like wacky superheroes, so this one sounds like the best of the bunch.

“Can a prim young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?”  –  I would have said “dashing zombie” is an oxymoron.

“A timeless love story with a unique mythology that captivates the imagination.” – The blurb didn’t say what this unique mythology might be, so you have to take the publicist’s word.

This book is “generating a Twilight-level buzz.”   I’ve never heard of it.

OK, I guess I’m being a little snarky.  It seems that today’s YA represents a successful move by writers and publishers to attract a new demographic of younger readers to what is essentially, romance.  On one hand, this largely excludes me as a reader and writer, because while I think romance is fine, it’s not my thing.   I also find it sad to think that over the near term, we’re going to have zombie love instead of books like A Wrinkle in Time, The Earthsea Trilogy, and The Golden Compass.

So what am I doing about it?  Kicking back with literary comfort food, otherwise known as light detective stories, stories with fun characters you just want to trail along with as they bring justice into the world.  In the past, I’ve devoured stories by Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Tony Hillerman, and Elizabeth Peters.  Now, thanks to my wife, I have a new main-man – Hamish MacBeth, the constable of the village of Lochdubh, Scotland, who, with his dog, Lugs, and his cat, Sonsie – and wee dram now and again – excels at solving murders.  Hamish is the creation of M.C. Beaton, the pseudonym used by author, Marion Chesney, for her mystery stories.  Born in Glasgow in 1936, she has also written 100 historical romances under a different names.

M.C. Beaton

My wife has collected a bookshelf full of MacBeth stories, and I’ve only started.  My current read is, Death of a Chimney Sweep.  In one passage, Hamish is driving an author to meet her publisher. He says to her,  “Angela, you’re taking this all to seriously.”

“What would you know?  You haven’t a single ambitious bone in your body.”

“Aye, and I like it that way.”  Hamish suddenly wished the evening was over.

I love these stories!   I will have more to say about Hamish MacBeth in my next post.

5 thoughts on “Literary Indigestion

  1. I remember Hamish McBeth. There was a rather nice TV adaptation, though that rather misses the point of your post….
    I’ve withdrawn from YA after similar experiences and found refuge in Steampunk for the time being. I also enjoy “Library Roulette”, picking a book off the “Librarian recommends” shelves based entirely on the cover. Judging a book by its cover, eh?


  2. I completely understand that writing is a business for many, so it’s unsurprising that there are those with enough “ambitious bone” to take advantage of whichever trending tropes allow them to cash in. Television and pop music also have similar jump in / cash out “artists.”

    These bandwagon books are the publishing equivalent of soap operas — ready availability and likely with a compromised quality. Perhaps like soap operas, whose changing demographic forced most of the shows into cancellation, the copycats will be killed by the move toward Kindles, web, and boutique publishing?

    I find the move to self-publishing (in all its facets) interesting to track, but (like you, like Damian) I want to spend my time with books recommended to me by people I trust. I’m luckier than most, however, because I have a friend who owns a wonderful bookshop in Edmonds WA who doesn’t at all mind putting books in the mail to me and another working at a local library who calls the minute she sees something I’d like. My stack of unread runneth over!

    (and *please*, snarky posts are great sometimes!)


    • It’s great to have friends you trust who can give you recs. I used to frequent a specialty sci-fi / fantasy bookstore with an owner who knew my tastes. It’s long gone, unfortunately.

      I’m also following ebook self-publishing with a lot of interest. One blogger suggested that $0.99 ebooks are the modern equivalent of dime novels – an interesting take, I thought, and probably a correct adjustment for inflation.


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