Because I don’t see myself as a “genre” reader, I honestly didn’t think that I was vulnerable to any particular form of “genre kryptonite,” which is defined by Book Riot as “that Radioactive Genre Element that drains (someone) of all their powers and compels that person to read and read and read and read”. I’ve recently learned that I have been mistaken, probably because I’ve been thinking of “genre” much too narrowly.
Apparently I’m rather a sucker for the boarding-school novel, and I have been for much of my reading life. Consider my track record with this list of “13 Enthralling Boarding-School Novels” from Simon and Schuster’s Off the Shelf blog:
- The Secret History, by Donna Tartt–read it (twice)
- A Separate Peace, by John Knowles–read it, but not since high school
- Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray–haven’t read it (yet), but I do own the audiobook
- Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld–read it and put it on the keeper shelf
- Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro–read it, didn’t like it as much as I wanted to
- Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer–started the ebook last winter, so technically still reading it
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark–heard of the movie, haven’t read the book
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green–read it, liked it a lot
- Old School by Tobias Wolff–haven’t read it
- The Lake of Dead Languages, by Carol Goodman–read it, mostly forgot it
- The Fall of Rome, by Martha Southgate–never heard of it, but the description is interesting, and one of the author’s other novels did survive the Big Book Purge of 2015
- The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton DiSclafani–thought about reading it and wish-listed the audiobook, but haven’t gotten to it
- In One Person, by John Irving–haven’t read it, but Jennifer recommends it
I actually don’t think The Secret History belongs on this list–it’s set at a small liberal-arts college, not a boarding school. I would swap it out for The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and I would add the entire Harry Potter series (except for Deathly Hallows, perhaps, since no one’s at Hogwarts for most of it).
While this list is obviously publisher-centric and less than comprehensive, my response to it made me realize that if “boarding-school novel” is a genre, it is indeed kryptonite for me. On further reflection, and still interpreting “genre” pretty broadly, I think I’ve identified what would give me a bookcase full of kryptonite:
I am more than tired of TV shows and movies set here in Los Angeles, but (non-genre) novels that take place in LA frequently work well for me. The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar and Maria Semple’s This One is Mine are examples from the archives, I have the LA-riots novel All Involved by Ryan Gattis on hold at the library, and Model Home by Eric Puchner is still in the TBR collection after the Big Book Purge of 2015.
I think that Memphis, Tennessee may have the strongest inherent sense of place of anywhere I’ve lived, and I gravitate to both fiction and nonfiction where it has a presence. Granted, it may have been a bigger draw when I actually did live there–it’s certainly part of why I was a big John Grisham reader back in the 1990s–but since I’ve left, it’s led me to books like Tova Mirvis’ novels The Ladies’ Auxiliary and The Outside World and Alan Lightman’s memoir Screening Room: Family Pictures.
- My own Catholicism is seriously lapsed, but it still informs my worldview, and it steers me toward both secular books about religion and memoirs of finding and losing it. That’s put authors like Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, and Karen Armstrong on my shelves, and their books have been among the few that stay there.
- My recent read of What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross came from my interest in narrative nonfiction about the impact of natural disasters. Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial sets a very high bar for anything else in this category, but this “Literary Chronology of Hurricane Katrina” from Biographile–on which it’s included–offers some other recommendations.
Memoir/essay collections in audiobook, read by their intelligent, funny women authors, are not only kryptonite for me–they’re also my gateway drugs to the format. Tina, Mindy, Aisha and Amy (it’s hard not to feel on a first-name basis with them all now) are a few of the ladies in the archives, and they will be joined there by (almost)-never-weird-on-the-Internet Felicia Day when I release her from my Audible TBR collection.
What’s your genre kryptonite? Do you have more than one? And do you have any recommendations to feed mine?
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