Disclaimer: this post may contain opinions offensive to readers of all sorts.
Are there talking animals?
Is the protagonist a disaffected teenager or creature other than those known to inhabit Earth?
Is the central storyline that of a marriage in deep trouble or of a character’s journey toward self-actualization or self-discovery?
How about tribal cultures? Native American culture? Wizard culture?
Dysfunctional American families? Torture? Abused animals?
Is the book a memoir or epistolary?
Is it about writers? hipsters? freaks? racists? Is it funny? depressing? really long? Does it feature anyone described as “adorable”?
Some of the prejudices listed above are mine, but not all—my mother has no trouble being outed about her distaste for books that feature dysfunctional American families (she doesn’t mind any other culture’s screwed-up families), and many fellow readers turn their noses up at sad or depressing books. I admit that after having worked on young adult novels for many years, I no longer care to read anything that has the internal landscape of the teenage mind. Nor does the setting of Xenon or Lanadore or some imaginary land with glorks or nepletz with magic powers hold any interest for me. I love depressing and long, but generally am not interested in Native American culture.
Contrary to what I’ve just said, there will always be books that somehow challenge the admittedly glib and ignorant groupings above. I loved Broken Glass Park (a story of a teenage girl living in the Russian ghetto in Germany) and while I didn’t really like Louise Erdrich’s story of a tormented and twisted marriage, Shadow Tag, I raced through it in two days. In the old “glass is half empty” way of thinking, it’s easier to come up with kinds of books I don’t like rather than categories of books I like. How do you classify Rudolph Dolson’s Maynard and Jennica? A love story? A story about New York? Well, who doesn’t like those? How about Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado or Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex? Kinda sorta coming-of-age stories? Or Kate Christensen’s Jeremy Thrane, or for that matter Dickens’s Bleak House?
Have I just contradicted myself or is it that the books we love defy easy description? I scoff at Eat, Pray, Love and The Lord of the Rings, but to the many people who have enjoyed those books, they’re not just stories of self-actualization or hobbits; they’re much bigger than that. So. I’ll try to keep my bigotry to myself except with close friends with whom I will easily admit, “Nope, can’t read it; it’s about a talking badger named Suzette.”