The Fiction Fox
My Bookish Buzzwords
Updated: Oct 27, 2019
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have them: bookish buzzwords. A specific word that is mentioned in the title, synopsis or reviews of a book, that always piques your interest. A word in an otherwise “okay” description, that sways you to pick up this particular novel, over the other thousands available. Buzzwords can be anything, from descriptions of the writing style (like “Lyrical” or “fast-paced”), to story elements (like ”pirates” or “space travel”), to even currently relevant themes (often added by the publisher) to indicate a specific audience, such as “feminist”. Either consciously or subconsciously, these buzzwords play a large role in determining the book we’re drawn to. These are some of the ones I’ve identified, that’ll double my chances of reading a book instantly.
- Coastal/Seaside or Island setting “Coastal” or “Seaside” is probably my biggest buzzword currently, strange as that might be. There is something about the atmosphere that salty air, the ocean breeze and the constant hum of the waves in the background adds to a story. I have always had a deep seeded love for the ocean, and for the time I can’t physically be near it, I love to vicariously experience it through books. Although I’ll read any seaside setting, varying from tropical Caribbean shores to the chilly, windy English Canal coast, the latter is my current favorite. Some of my great novels with this setting include: The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan, The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester and The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni. Coastal vibes and magical realism especially, are a match made in heaven, that I simply cannot resist.
- Elements of myth or folklore Another match made in heaven are magical realism and myths or folklore. Although I grew up on the European fairytales of the Grimm brothers and Andersen, I’ve had a thing for the more obscure folklore stories for as long as I can remember. Bring me all the changelings, the selkies, the haunted forests and what lurks within them. I’m intrigued by the cultural role that folklore has played in the past, and continues to do now, and I love seeing it explored in fiction, including modern fiction. I don’t need a full blown retelling, but little elements sprinkled throughout a novel get me every time. Examples include: The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden, Melmoth by Sarah Perry and Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. Some of my favorite retelling include the ones of Greek mythology by Madeline Miller, or most recently The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.
- Stories, Language and Memory Similar to the previous point: I love stories that are about stories, and the power of words in general. I don’t mean just traditional fairytales, but stories in the broadest sense of the word. Stories we tell others, but also stories we tell ourselves: the narrative we create for ourselves through memories. Stories are a way we give meaning, and create order in the chaos of our lives. Both personally, as well as professionally as a medical student, it never seizes to amaze me what horrible life experiences people can deal with, as long as they can make sense of the narrative of their own life. We are constantly telling stories, whether true or false, and I always love when a book explores this.
- Family relationships/multigenerational storylines When it comes to relationships in fiction, I feel like there’s a divide in the bookish community: half of us adores romantic relationships, and the other half prefers to read about family relations. To me, the latter will always be infinitely more interesting. I love multigenerational tales, and seeing how the actions of one person can start a ripple that grows into a wave through generations to come. If you want to get into multigenerational tales, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende or The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton are great places to start. When it comes to family, I also adore reading about found families, as sometimes, “family” does not have to require a connection by blood. Look at the Six of Crows Duology, The Raven Cycle, Harry Potter, The Gilded Wolves or even childhood classics like Matilda.
Personal to me
- Grief The books we love the most, are often the ones that manage to strike a personal note with us. The ones that stay with us for years after we finish them, because we found a little piece of ourselves in them along the way. If you’ve known me for a while, you will know that I have a soft spot for books that deal with grief, for this very reason. In particular, the way children and teenagers grieve, and grief expressed through magical realism. Having experienced personal grief during multiple phases of my childhood and teens, adds an extra dimension to my reading experience. Books have helped me through a lot during, and after, and it has forever changed the way I read them. I may be quite critical when reviewing them, but any book that does grief well, is an easy winner in my book. I have a post just about my favorite novels about grief coming up soon, so I'll save my recommendations for that.
- Physical disabilities, (chronic) illness, deformity or otherwise bodily difference. In recent years we’ve seen a surge of novels that deal with mental health, which has allowed people with mental illnesses to see themselves represented in fiction like never before. I couldn’t be more for that, but I do feel like the representation of people with physical illnesses is lacking a little behind. Apart from books about cancer, which there are many great ones but equally as many terrible ones, it’s way harder than you think to find stories that have disability or (chronic) illness as a central theme. From a storytelling perspective, I can understand why this makes sense. Books about acute illnesses often have a clear “stopping point”: the death or healing of the character. We don’t see the aftermath, nor do we see what happens to someone with a chronic illness that doesn’t have an “endpoint”.
As someone who has dealt closely with all these topics, either from a personal perspective or as a caregiver for a loved one, I feel like it’s a big hiatus in modern fiction, and one that needs to be filled. I currently don’t feel like I’ve read enough books about this topic to give you any recommendations, but I’d love to be able to make a list in the future. In the meantime: please let me know any and all suggestions you have for me, even more so in this category than any of the others!
- Botanical/alchemical magic (Fantasy) Maybe this is the high school chemistry nerd in me, or maybe it stems from my obsession with wanting to explore the entire alchemy/potion-system in any RPG I’ve ever played… no matter what the reason behind it is: I find myself adoring this type of magic system again and again. Some well-known examples are: The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkass, Poison Study by Maria V. Sneijder and the Stream Raiders series by Sara Raasch. If you have any more recommendations, please feel free to let me know, as it’s more difficult that you might think to find books that fit this specific criterium.
- Thief/heist (Fantasy/Adventure) This one is easier to find, yet no less entertaining for it. I know it’s an overused trope, I know it’s not original anymore, yet I can’t help but get a little excited when I find a new fantasy centering around a thief or heist crew. My favorites are of course The Six of Crows duology, The Mistborn Trilogy and the Lies of Locke Lamora, but there are many others I could name. I have no idea what it says about me that I’m apparently drawn to some illegal activities in my fiction, but there you go…
- Dragons (Fantasy) Specifically dragon-riding/dragon/training etc. Anything that isn’t dragon-slaying. Yes, I’m that basic… I grew up on Eragon, so please blame it on that…
- Haunted house (Thriller/Horror/Gothic Novels) Now I don’t mean in the sense that I want to read “poltergeist-the-novel”, in which people are necessarily terrorized by an actual ghost. I mean books in the vein of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier or In The Nightwood by Dale Bailey, where the hauntings are more psychological than supernatural. The type of novel where you can wonder: is it the house that is haunted, or the people living within it? I love that trope, just as I love the use of ghosts in Magical Realism novels to signify memories in a way.
As you can see: in the end, these all tie into each other…
Again, I’d love to hear any and all recommendations you have regarding these themes, and I’d love to know if you enjoy any of the themes I do as well. I hope to see you back next time, and until than: happy reading!