A Book in a Genre You've Never Read Before: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

October 18, 2021 | Wendy B.

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What counts as a genre? The Oxford English Dictionary says it's a type of literary work characterized by a particular form, style, or purpose — which is pretty broad. Is poetry a genre? Aristotle says yes. How about Erotic Hockey Romance? We say yes. The fun thing about this category is that it opens up whole worlds of possibility. If you find a new genre you like, you've got years of new and enjoyable reading ahead of you. 

Genre: Slipstream

Fever Dream

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Genres can have all kinds of origins. "Slipstream" started out as a pejorative term. Science fiction  (SF) writers Bruce Sterling and Richard Dorsett described it as "a non-SF story which is so ontologically distorted or related in such a bizarrely non-realist fashion that it cannot pass muster as commercial mainstream fiction and therefore seeks shelter in the SF or fantasy genre." Sterling later amended this definition to "a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange." I personally love ontological distortions and bizarre locutions, so this sounds great to me. I'm going to go out on a limb and posit that Samanta Schweblin's books, such as Fever Dream (soon to be a Netflix movie), could qualify as slipstream fiction. 


Staff Recommendations

Here are some more suggestions for this category from library staff.

Genre: Magical Realism

The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This story takes place in the real world but has magical elements to it. Hiram Walker is an enslaved person who has the gift of conduction, inherited from his grandmother. He has a photographic memory and can remember everything, except his mother, who was sold by his white father when Hiram was a small child. Hiram works with Harriet Tubman, using conduction to help people escape through the Underground Railroad. This beautifully written book reflects on the power of memory to help people find the power to escape slavery. The magical segments of travel are powerful.

- Debra, Librarian


Genre: Picaresque


Temporary by Hilary Leichter
A picaresque novel tells the story of a low-class adventurer as they drift from place to place in an effort to survive. Temporary by Hilary Leichter falls into this categorization, but it takes the genre to an absurdist extreme. The narrator of Temporary comes from a long line of temp workers. She herself works for a temp agency. She's assigned increasingly ridiculous job placements, such as filling in for mannequins at the department store, a pirate, even a CEO. In the meantime, she is striving for “the steadiness”, or a permanent job, as the temporary nature of her work seems to have permeated all aspects of her life. The novel is funny, bizarre, and provides eerily poignant critiques of work in the 21st century.

This could also work for:

  • A book about someone unlike yourself
  • A debut book
  • A book with a one-word title

-Marta, Librarian    


Genre: Queer Paranormal Romance

Cemetery Boys

Cemetery Boys by Aiden  Thomas

I really struggle with reading Romance and YA books. I will give them a try only if the romance is queer and there is a paranormal element to the story. I've been meaning to read Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and it checks all of those boxes. Yadriel is a trans man trying to prove his gender and his magic as a brujo. He summons up a ghost who refuses to leave, named Julian Diaz, who was their school's resident bad boy. The longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants him to leave.

- Lucas, Librarian

Genre: Inclusive Romantic Comedy

Act Your Age  Eve Brown

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

This is the third book in Talia Hibbert's inclusive rom-com trilogy about the Brown sisters. It follows the story of the third Brown sister, Eve. Eve ends up working at a bed and breakfast in the English countryside after struggling in every career she attempts. Jacob, the owner of the bed and breakfast, strives for perfection in everything he does and isn't quite sure at first about having Eve around. But then opposites attract, sparks fly and things get steamy. What I really liked about this book was the characters - they are both autistic. Their conversations showed patience, understanding and acceptance of each other. I usually avoid romances because of how cookie-cutter they can be, but this one is definitely unique and kept me entertained!

- Nalini, Senior Branch Head


Genre: Nature Writing


Upstream by Mary Oliver

I'd only encountered Mary Oliver's poetry previously, but I recently read her book of essays titled Upstream. (It was in my "to read" pile for years and is now in my pile of material "to read again and again".) The essays in this book mostly fall under the genre of nature writing (non-fiction, fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment), though she also makes observations on artistic endeavour, writing, and the lives of other writers and poets. I cannot express my love for this beautiful book enough! Oliver's passionate and boundless curiosity is contagious; her writing meditative and profound. Many people who read and loved Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing comment on how they love the nature writing aspects of the novel. I'd say if you've never read non-fiction nature writing, it's never too late to start!

Also recommend:

- Andrea, Librarian

Genre: Genre-bending (Illustrated historical vignettes)

The Frozen Thames

The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys

Indulge in this highly original work: utterly beautiful, genre-bending, this book is comprised of vignettes set during each of the 40 times the Thames River has frozen solid between 1142 and 1895. Helen Humphreys is an impressive storyteller who diligently researches her characters. Because of this, she deftly amplifies voices throughout history be it a Queen or a simple farmer. Each chapter is a fleeting snapshot of life by the river and is accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Readers can take this pocket-sized book as a quick read, or as a scenic escape for folks looking for an immersive experience. One of the very few books I have re-read in my life.

- Reagan, Librarian 

Genre: Anti-Novel

This Is Not a Novel
This is Not a Novel by David Markson.

A collection of three books written by David Markson. It is hard to nail down a genre but I've seen it described as 'creative fiction', 'experimental fiction' or just as an anti-novel. There is no plot and the only character we have is 'Writer', who tells us: "A novel with no intimation of story whatsoever, Writer would like to contrive. And with no characters. None.... Yet seducing the reader into turning pages nonetheless." (pgs 13-14). This is exactly what we get in this collection of three novels.

On the surface, this whole book appears to be just a random collection of facts about artists, literature and philosophy. It's like the author constructed his book by writing sentences (some as short as one word) on scraps of paper, tossed them all in a hat, and the order he pulled them out in was the order they appeared in the book. But there are themes and a flow to the novel, and as you continue to read it you start to realize the ordering of these facts is not so random after all. This is a great book to read with Wikipedia open as I found myself constantly looking up different artists, authors and philosophers that I had never heard of. An example of the writing style from a page chosen at random (253):

Mark Twain's was the first house in Hartford with a telephone.

Norway's king attended Kirsten Flagstad's funeral.

Do certain people actually remember learning to read?

Monte Carlo, Lillie Langtry died in.

- Devin, Librarian

Genre: Fantasy of Manners

Sorcerer to the Crown
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Fantasy of Manners plays on the "comedy of manners" genre, which includes Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest and the works of P.G. Wodehouse. Books in this genre are concerned with etiquette and class structure, but also include fantasy elements. The Sorcerer to the Crown is about the efforts of Zacharias Wythe, the first Black man to be appointed England’s Sorcerer Royal, who teams up with Prunella Gentleman, a spirited biracial woman, to discover why England is losing its stores of magic. Like Jane Austen’s novels, The Sorcerer to the Crown is set during the British Regency period and features witty dialogue and sharp social commentary.


The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

This book is about Maia, a young man of mixed Elven and Goblin heritage who unexpectedly inherits his father’s title to become Emperor of the Elflands. Raised in exile, Maia has few friends and allies and must contend with a complicated and hostile royal court as he begins his reign. Maia is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters. I love how he consciously chooses to be a good person and tries to use his rule to make the world a better place.

- Chelsea, Librarian

Genre: Trauma fiction

The Silence of the Girls

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
In this novel, Barker retells the historical trauma faced by the often "invisible" women in the Trojan war in the legend of the Iliad. She is also the Booker Prize winner for her masterpiece, The Regeneration Trilogy, and has her pulse on the narrative of trauma through the passage of time and war.

- Eunice, Librarian

Recommendations from Facebook

These are just a few of the books that the members of our Reading Challenge Facebook discussion group are reading and recommending! You can read the entire thread, even without a Facebook account.

Cli-fi (Climate fiction):
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Epistolary novel (novel in letters):

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Erotic hockey romance:

Trying to Score by Kendall Ryan

Empty Net by Toni Aleio

Literary criticism:

Don't Read Poetry: A Book about How to Read Poems by Stephanie Burt

Magical realism:

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Famished Road by Ben Okri  

Maritime fiction:

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

Pandemic fiction:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Lost Immunity by Daniel Kalla


Home Body by Rupi Kaur

Sports memoir:

Open by Andre Agassi


Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro

True Crime:

I'll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater


Legends of the Condor Heroes by Jin Yong

We discussed this category, along with "a book about love (not just the romantic kind)" and "a book about fame" at our March 2021 Reading Challenge Online Book Discussion. If you missed the live event, you can watch the replay on CrowdCast or on Facebook

What is your favourite obscure genre? Share in the comments below!

(Edit: replaced missing heading for Maritime fiction, Oct. 19; corrected spelling of "Wuxia", Oct. 20)