Diamonds in the Rough; Or, Finding Great Reads in Generic Dross

A fellow bookish blogger, Smithereens, asked me a question about whether or not sue should read a particular book in a super-saturated genre. That question got me to thinking about what does make a book a stand out from the crowd when there are a bajillion examples of the genre all over the market.

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Isaac Israel

Saturated genre markets are not unusual. Someone creates a winner—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneThe Da Vinci Code; any number of supernatural romances; and, in the case of Smithereens’ question, the mind-boggling number of dystopias currently crowding bookstore shelves—and then the Big Five publishers start cranking out readalikes until people get bored of them and move on to the next big read. This isn’t to say that all the clones are not worthwhile. There are good books in any heap. The problem is that, the more books there are in a genre, the harder it is to find the really good ones. Hence my question. So, I thought of some things to look for to find the goods ones:

  1. Look for roundups of the best examples of a particular genre on the big bookish sites like Book Riot, LitHub, or other source that has similar tastes to you. I prefer sites that provide at least little blurbs to explain why the books are particularly good type specimens.
  2. Read reviews of books that catch your eye and look for hints that the book does something different from the usual fare:
    1. Look for a protagonist who does not look like the usual type.
    2. Look for language that amounts to “twist on the usual.” For me, the stand outs in any saturated genre are the ones that play around with expectations. They’ll flip genders, mash up genres, age up the protagonist, avoid the tropes, etc.
    3. Avoid any books in which the review mentions any of the specific genre’s tropes or that refer to books as undeveloped, uneven, or unexceptional.
  3. Find another reader you trust who reads a particular genre and ask.
    1. Book Riot runs a very good podcast for book recommendations called Get Booked. The women who host the show have access to the massive Book Riot contributor community for when they get stumped.
    2. Joelendil added in the comments: “in my experience blurbs that directly compare their book to the premier book that popularized the sub-genre tend to be painfully generic at best. For me, ‘Fans of LOTR will love this…’ is a big red warning flag even though LOTR is my all time favorite fiction.” Thanks for the addition!
  4. This is similar to 3, but look for authors who’ve won awards in your target genre if there is one. You can often find genre awards by googling. I know there are awards for science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, historical fiction, and romance.

Good luck out there, readers! And thanks for Smithereens for the idea.

Edited to add 3.2, courtesy of Joelendil.

5 Comments

  1. Great suggestions! This probably falls under your point 3.3, but in my experience blurbs that directly compare their book to the premier book that popularized the sub-genre tend to be painfully generic at best. For me, “Fans of LOTR will love this…” is a big red warning flag even though LOTR is my all time favorite fiction.

    Like

  2. Nice post! It made me think about my own method for choosing the next book (instinct rather than method, to be honest). When I’m reading blog posts, I indeed look for your point 2.2. For example, what sold me on choosing “The way of all flesh” after reading your post, was that beyond the classic amateur detectives in 19C Edimburgh (a trope in itself) you mentioned tidbits on medical history that look rather detailed and seemed to be based on solid research.

    Liked by 1 person

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