Patterns of Innovation: 8 Multi-Genre Books to Read

Micaela Tam

A wardrobe that leads to a magical land of talking lions, centaurs and dwarves in perpetual winter? Fantasy. A story of a strong-minded woman who gets past her own prejudice and falls in love with a wealthy but prideful gentleman? Classic romance. Seven children who are preyed upon by an clown that exploits their fears? Horror. But what about a philosophical Gorilla that telepathically communicates with a man to teach him about the evolution of human society? Or the tale of a German girl in the 1940s told by Death? More and more, we are seeing such books, books that can’t be compartmentalised in a single traditional genre, emerge on bookshelves.

While genres may be useful in classifying patterns and elements that reoccur within certain categories (which in turn helps sell books by pointing customers to their preferred genres), they shouldn’t be thought of as defining boundaries. Unfortunately, it’s hard for an author to find a publishing company willing to sponsor a book that doesn’t fit into a marketable category. This has resulted in many creative and innovative endeavours to be shelved away as something that could-have-been-but-never-happened.

But perhaps this literary divide is getting smaller: famous authors have begun crossing the genre divide, new categories never heard of years ago are gaining a following, many subcategories are emerging. Don’t get me wrong, it makes sense to have genres as signposts to guide readers to the types of books they have more interest in. But be it a title for the Multi-Genre Book of the Month in bookstores, or even an award dedicated to the uncategorisable, we must also recognise and we must not discourage the books that don’t quite fit within the boundaries.

And so, in honour of this sentiment, today we shine a spotlight on multi-genre books. Here’s a list of 8 multi-genre books I’ve read, am reading or am going to read sometime in the near future.

1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

A novel that relies on its beautiful illustrations just as much as it does on its words. The first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, generally reserved for picture books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” Inspired by the true story of French filmmaker Georges Méliès, it’s an immersive experience into early 20th century Paris.

2. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

The winner of the 500,000 USD Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award, which was created to be awarded to an unpublished work that proposed innovative solutions to global problems, Ishmael sat unpublished for 13 years. An unconventional book that consists entirely of Socratic dialogue between a telepathic gorilla and his human student, it examines man’s world-view of his place in the natural world, cultural biases driving modern civilisation and the environmental consequences of such beliefs. A book that made me think and kept me thinking long after I finished it.

3. Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Comprised of 12 connected short stories that span from before the big-bang to present day, Cosmicomics is almost always narrated by Qfwfq (not a typo), some sort of being that’s always been present. Each story starts off with a scientific fact or theory and evolves into an fabled story around this fact. With romance, sci-fi, fantasy, fable and humour in the mix, Cosmicomics blew my mind in that it really did take imagination and creativity to a whole new level.

4. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Though most well-known as the “King of Horror”, Stephen King has penned many books of different genres. 11/22/63, titled because of its plot revolving around travelling back in time to prevent U.S. President John Kennedy’s assassination, is a blend of historical fiction, science fiction, mystery, crime and thriller. It comes with a hefty list of achievements: it topped the New York Times Best Seller list for 16 weeks, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller in 2012, won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel and was nominated for both the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2012 and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2012. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my must-read list!

5. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

If you have time on your hands, you should definitely give the 1,079-paged (plus MANY pages of footnotes) Infinite Jest a read. I myself, am still working my way through it. Set in a near future in somewhat dystopian North America, the novel consists of many plot lines that eventually converge around a family that operates a tennis academy. This encyclopaedic novel, perhaps described as a mix of satire, tragicomedy, hysterical realism and postmodernism, is a story about addiction in its various forms. It’s a novel that’s equal parts frustrating, moving, funny and profound.

6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A childhood favourite of mine, this is a book that adults and children alike can appreciate. Part historical, part supernatural and part coming of age, The Book Thief is narrated by none other than Death, who tells the tale of a young German girl named Liesel and her experiences during World War 2. I can never read this book with shedding a tear or two, so make sure you have a tissue box by your side!

7. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

A satirical sci-fi tragicomedy, Cat’s Cradle is my favourite among Kurt Vonnegut’s works. His book most notably satirises the nuclear arms race and delves into issues surrounding free will, religion and technology. Relatively short, so if you need a good book to read before you sleep, read Cat’s Cradle!

8. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Archetypal Murakami in its blending of genres, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is so weird and whimsical it works. Perhaps best described as a combination of noir, cyberpunk, sci-fi, fantasy, mythology, mystery and magical realism, this novel portrays dual worlds and storylines that features a futuristic Tokyo and a fantasy land complete with unicorns and shadowless people. According to my friends who have been pestering me to read this, if you’re looking for something that is ingeniously creative, you can’t go wrong by reading this.

Conclusion

Multi-genre books have potential to reach out to new audiences, to encourage those interested in one genre to explore new ones. They can also teach us to become more flexible and effective writers and storytellers. After all, we write what we read. We can learn how to convey tones in various ways. For example, suspense in a crime novel is certainly different from the suspense conveyed in a comedic novel. But utilising both versions or knowing how to use different types of suspense allows one to communicate much more freely. And maybe multi-genre books can create a whole new language, or style, of writing.

But why is Asia P3 Hub, a multi-sector partnership incubator, writing about multi-genre books? They’re actually quite an appropriate parallel to how multi-sector partnerships work as well. Through engaging in multi-sector partnerships, we open the door to more possibilities, more donors, more clients, more communities. We can encourage other sectors to explore the idea of working with others. We are the storytellers of our own sectors, but by combining knowledge, by working together, we enable ourselves to communicate much more freely with one another: we can share our stories with one another. We can also create a whole new language, a common one, that cultivates a collaborative culture.


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