Once, many years ago, when I was working at the Oxfam shop, a woman clad in a grandiose collection of pearls and gold placed a small wooden box on the counter and demanded,
“What. Is. This?”
“That is a box.”
“And what. Can I. PUT. Inside it?” I scanned the shop for any sign of a hidden camera or punch line but, finding none, I answered with as straight a face as possible,
“Um, anything that is smaller than the box?”
And it’s true. You can put lots of things in boxes. Shoes, presents, knick-knacks, curios, belly button lint, cats belonging to theoretical physicists. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. As an author, people are always trying to put you in boxes. This must be true because there pictures below that prove it.
Whenever I tell people I’m a writer, they always ask “What genre do you write?” As if, despite the fact that I could literally choose to write about ANYTHING IN THIS OR ANY OTHER UNIVERSE, I would be content with choosing one style, setting or era. Imagine if someone said to you; “What is the story of your life? Is it a tragedy? A romcom? A political thriller? A work of paranormal erotica?” If you can conclusively answer ‘yes’ to only one of these genres, then clearly YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG (and, if it was to the last one, you may be in need of psychiatric assistance.)
FIG 2. Comparative literature and cinema of the last 20 years.
Source: Newsnight with Will McAvoy
Likewise, it seems abundantly strange to me that more authors don’t write for a wider range of ages. Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman all write books for kids as well as adults, and yet there still seems to be a prevailing attitude that authors should write exclusively for one group or the other. When I set out to write a book for a younger audience, I never considered the fact that this should restrict either my vocabulary or thematic content. Zeb and the Great Ruckus is, for the purpose of bookstore shelf filing and Dewey decimal system appeasement, a children’s novel. It is also, however, a novel that essentially warns against the dangers of an overly authoritative government that oppresses its citizens through constant surveillance and restricting individual expression and art. It’s just that it does this through the viewpoint of a pair of twelve year old kids who go on a fantastic and hilarious adventure.
Books like Harry Potter, the His Dark Materials trilogy, the Hunger Games and Calvin and Hobbes are aimed at younger audiences but, clearly, their appeal massively transcends this demographic. And yet there are adults who will refuse to read a book if it is categorized as ‘Children’s fiction’ or ‘Young Adult fiction.’ In much the same way that some people use ‘foreign film’ as a denotation of genre, as though a Japanese horror film is all but identical to a French romcom.
FIG 3. SPOT THE DIFFERENCE
Source: Bluth Industries
More than 1 000: Congratulations! You are a human with at least moderately functional retinas and cognitive abilities.
750 – 999: You’re a Jersey Shore fan, aren’t you?
50– 749: Please don’t vote.
Les than 50: You are clearly some sort of single celled organism with no ocular facilities that probably reproduces asexually (which I imagine must be rather convenient).
Sometimes we shouldn’t try and fit things into boxes. Think of literature like a bird, you could cram it into a tidy little box and file it away under neat little labels, but you’d be much better off letting it spread its wings and fly. And not just because a dead bird in your filing cabinet is going to stink like hell.
From Jessica: If anyone is interested in reading my review of his book, click here.