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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A “New” Genre Is Born

Written by Jon Williams

There was a time when “young adult” wasn’t much of a genre unto itself, when novels about young protagonists were simply grouped into the regular literature category. Examples include books like A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird, both of which feature adult narrators looking back on their younger days. Over time, as writers and publishers began to see tweens (another fairly recent term) and teens as a group with distinct interests and anxieties that could be explored, the young adult genre took off. It has thrived in recent years with novels and series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars, to name just a few.

Now another new genre is taking shape in much the same way. A seed was planted with the observation that many adult readers were dipping into those above-mentioned YA titles to find reading material for themselves, not just for their kids. That seed was watered by the wild success of the Fifty Shades series (which itself grew out of the Twilight phenomenon), in which a college-age main character explores her burgeoning sexuality. Now the “new adult” genre is beginning to sprout; what it will eventually grow into is, right now, anyone’s guess.

Boiled down to its essence, new adult fiction deals with characters in their late teens to early twenties, dealing with the issues that people of that age would typically be dealing with, including identity, leaving home, transitioning into the “real world,” marriage (and divorce), etc. Of course, following in the footsteps of Fifty Shades, romance and sexuality also play a huge role thematically in the first wave of new adult books. Authors leading the way in the romance-dominated early days of the genre include Abbi Glines, Colleen Hoover, Jay Crownover, Molly McAdams, and Jamie McGuire.

Librarians, as this article notes, are now interested to see where the genre goes from here. With young, naturally dynamic characters as protagonists, there’s no reason why more tropes than just romance can’t be incorporated as a prime focus. That will perhaps (or perhaps not) help librarians solve another concern over this new genre—how to categorize it. Does it go in the general fiction section? Or should it be shelved with romance, or in the young adult area? Compounding this issue is the fact that many patrons interested in new adult fiction aren’t the same age as the characters in the books—adult readers are just as interested in these tales as their younger counterparts.

Has your library seen much patron interest in these new adult titles? How are you dealing with the categorization issues? Let us know in the comments section below, along with what you would like to see from the genre as it develops.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meeting Murakami

Written by Jon Williams

For the past few weeks you’ve been seeing Haruki Murakami’s name at or near the top of the bestseller lists. His recent novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, released on August 12, went straight to the top of the New York Times list, where it remains in the top ten. It follows the main character as he attempts to get his life in order by reuniting and making amends with friends from his youth. Murakami’s own story, though, is just as interesting.

Born in Kyoto 1949, Murakami went on to study drama in college in Tokyo. Instead of pursuing that as a career, however, he and his wife opened a jazz club. According to Murakami himself, he didn’t write at all until he was 29 years old. Then, while attending a baseball game, he was struck with the notion that he could write a novel. He had to stop on his way home from the ballpark to buy a pen and paper, but he began work that very night on the manuscript that would become Hear the Wind Sing, his first novel. Although that book is not widely available in English, a new translation is in the works, scheduled for a 2015 release. It will be paired with a new translation of his second novel, Pinball, 1973, which is also rare in its current English version.

While Pinball, 1973 was his first novel translated into English, Murakami did not gain international acclaim until his third and fourth novels, A Wild Sheep Chase (written 1982, translated 1989; currently unavailable) and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (written 1985, translated 1991), which worked in elements of fantasy and magical realism. Then came Norwegian Wood (currently unavailable as an audiobook, although the movie adaptation is available), a realistic coming-of-age novel, and perhaps his most famous to date. That made its way to North America in 2000. Since then he has published such novels as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and 1Q84 (his most recent work prior to Colorless Tsukuru), all of which came available to English readers in much shorter order than his previous works.

Murakami’s novels are his most popular works, but they are by no means his only literary occupation. He is a noted translator, adapting into Japanese so much of the American literature that has had such an influence on him, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Long Goodbye, and The Great Gatsby, among many others. In between novels he writes short stories, a form in which he claims to find more joy. You can find examples of his short fiction in the collection After the Quake, a collection dealing with the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. He also ventures into non-fiction with What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir of his dedication to fitness. Like his writing life, Murakami came relatively late to running—beginning at age 33, he has run one marathon each year since, as well as one 110km ultra-marathon.

Needless to say, you haven’t heard the last of this driven literary dynamo. A new story, Strange Library, arrives in December. With the print version coming it at a scant 96 pages, its length is quite a contrast to most of his work. What comes after that is anyone’s guess. As Murakami prefers to challenge himself as he writes, it’s certain to be compelling.