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“As far as I’m concerned we should be promiscuous in our reading habits,” says Lauren Beukes, author of Broken Monsters and South Africa’s leading sci-fi/fantasy writer, “w should take any damn book we like to bed as long as that book is good in bed or in the bath or on the sofa or wherever you like to read.”

She made this remark during a segment of To The Best of Out Knowledge (TTBOOK), a radio show exploring big and fascinating ideas about life and the world. The statement is part of a case she levels against the literary establishment’s obsession with genres.

She argues that the convention of boxing fiction into compartments is too abstract to have any real bearing on how readers actually read.

Beukes exhorts readers to keep themselves open to different forms of storytelling instead of letting these tyrannical order placed on literary works define their habits of reading.

Beukes is addressing people who say things like: “I read only the Soyinkas of the world. James Hadley Chase is too low-brow for me” or  “I only read fantasy. Realism is a not out-there enough for me.” It’s okay to cultivate different kinds of tastes for reading. We like what we like, right? But what Beukes wants us to remember is that a rich and fulfilling reading experience requires that we see beyond these “artificial” order imposed on narratives.

In a sense, she is simply reminding us of a fact that is so easy to forget. Genres are not natural categories the way cats and dogs are distinct forms of life. They are made-up compartments. Genres might be helpful to scholars who study literature. They might also be helpful to bookshop owners who need customers to find book easily. But they are of little help to the reader when it comes to exploring the amazing and expansive world of stories.

Keep your reading taste open and evolving. A reader who lets genre difference define the limits of taste is living an impoverished reading life.

The takeaway from all this? Keep an open relationship with books. Be a promiscuous reader!

Listen to Beukes or read the transcript below!

Here is a transcript:

I am Lauren Beukes, the author of Broken Monsters, and my dangerous idea is that we should get rid of genre altogether.

I am so tired of the very artificial argument that there is literature and there is science fiction and that there is westerns and crime novels and that there are all somehow different and have different value systems.

As far as I’m concerned we should be promiscuous in our reading habits. We should take any damn book we like to bed as long as that book is good in bed or in the bath or on the sofa or wherever you like to read. You probably shouldn’t read with your e-reader in the bath but..you know.

The idea is that we have stories. We have good stories and bad stories. We have stories that use different elements, but to reduce them into these little boring pigeon holes where they have to fit certain criteria is so frustrating and tedious. I think we miss out on a lot of really good books.

Of course there is bad sci-fi, but it also depends on what your idea of science fiction is. It’s a very broad church.

It’s the same with crime. You might have a really tedious murder mystery, which breaks out all the cliches about pretty dead girls and the serial killer creeping up on people. We’ve seen it all before. And then you might read a crime novel like Gone Girl, which just blows you out of the water.

These distinctions they’re fake. They don’t exist. We need more hybrid novels. We need novels which can take their inspiration from the world.

Read what you wanna read.

Make yourself happy.

Read challenging adventurous, dangerous books across different genres.

Surprise yourself.

***

 

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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