As an author, and also as a reader, I have a problem with genre in general. My books do not fit squarely into any given genre, because basically they are all about the same thing: my view of life. It does not matter whether I am describing events from the Bible in a setting of modern day rural Texas, or telling the story of a Chinese six year old learning English, or writing a romance about historical figures from the 19th century during the war of 1812; it is all basically about this: what is right, what is just, what is language, how do people from different cultures and perspectives view the same event or even the same word? How do people parse things?
If you have read one of my books, then in one sense, you have read them all. Themes will reemerge, even though the setting is different. That is because I am a hedgehog and not a fox, as Isaiah Berlin would put it. I may not be a very good hedgehog, but, for better or worse, that is what I am.
For a long time now I have been aware that I can’t answer the question: “What is your book about?” in a way that really prepares the average reader to accept its content. Whatever answer I give will seem like a lie. People used to ask “What sort of book is this?” and I used to glibly answer “A good book.” Now I think the better answer would be: “A difficult book.” It’s difficult, because it requires the reader to think.
But is it for children?
Only recently did I realize that this question, quite surprisingly, is also hard to answer truthfully in a way that prepares the reader for the content. But I think lots of others struggle with this question, too. This year I saw Hayao Miyazaki skirt the issue very gracefully in an interview:
One very popular children’s author, Roald Dahl, wrote surprisingly similar books for both adults and for children. Compare Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with My Uncle Oswald.
All of Raold Dahl’s books are a little disturbing. They are not nicey-nice books. His treatment of chocolate in his book for children is not that different from his treatment of aphrodisiacs in his book for adults.
One clue as to whether something is for children or adults, of course, is the subject matter. Books that refer openly to sexual situations are off limits to children. That makes my novels Theodosia and the Pirates and Vacuum County clearly books for adults and not children.
But what about my books for children? Are they not for adults?
Readers have been confused about both. There are those who felt Ping and the Snirkelly People, though a useful and thought provoking book, was not right for children, because it dealt with culture clash, religion as viewed by an outsider, and — of all things — the parsing of the word “infidelity”.
There are also those who have read Theodosia and the Pirates and, despite the explicit love scenes, decided it must be a book for children. Maybe it was the discussion of English spelling that did it.
In a way, the critics are right. Both books are, at the heart of them, about the same thing. All my books are. And they are not typically books for children or adults. They are not books for women or for men. They are not books for liberals or for conservatives. They are books for people. And they might even be appropriate for non-humans and extraterrestrials.
People who are too invested in being either a child or an adult, a woman or a man, or a member of any particular group, might have a problem reading them, though.
Copyright 2014 Aya Katz