When I went to college, I largely stopped reading for pleasure, and I've never really gotten back to doing so. I've been doing more leisure reading in the last few years than I did through my college and graduate years, but I find that my tastes have gotten narrower.
Most of my joy in reading comes from a very particular sort of novel nowadays, and the trouble is that it's not a genre of novel. I can't plop "science fiction" or "romance" or "fantasy" into a search engine and come up with what I want.
Because what I want most from novels is to be charmed.
I want books full of likeable, engaging, witty and preferably genteel characters. I want light-hearted, well-written stories with entertaining plots and happy endings. I majored in Literature with a capital L and I've read more tragedies than I ever wanted to. I've read hundreds of epic, sweeping novels about TEOTWAWKI or the prevention thereof; I even wrote one myself. And in the process, I've acquired a taste for small stories, stories about ordinary people with people-sized problems. Every struggle doesn't have to be life-or-death, and every life-or-death struggle doesn't have to involve the welfare of whole nations or worlds.
To list off the qualities I'm looking for:
- Likeable characters
- Witty dialogue
- Gentility *
- Happy endings
- Humorous **
- Fantasy or sf setting
- Problem resolution by wit rather than raw force or power
* "Gentility" is not the same as "nobility". By genteel, I mean "well-mannered and courteous". Jane Austen's characters are rarely if ever nobles, and the few who are noble often aren't genteel. So I'm not looking for books about princes and princesses; I'm looking for ones about people who are polite and well-spoken.
** Again, not the same as a comedy. The Harry Potter books have plenty of humor in them, but they're not written as comedies.
Examples of works that fall into my newly-created subgenre:
Jane Austen novels
Ms. Austen didn't write fantasy or sf, but otherwise almost all her novels hit all of the other qualities I'm looking for. Her books are about quite ordinary middle-class Britains struggling with quite ordinary middle-class problems. They are, nonetheless, lots of fun to read, and often an exercise in demonstrating just how much trouble an overabundance of gentility can create.
The Crown Jewels (and its two sequels) by Walter Jon Williams
Yes, Walter Jon Williams, the cyberpunk author. He wrote a trio of lighthearted sf novels that are quite charming and, sadly, long out of print. Lut has copies; I should dig them out and re-read them, as it's been a few years. Depending on the reader's preferences, these might be weak on the "likeable characters" count, since many of the characters have moral codes that are somewhat peculiar. But there's an endearing and usually humorous emphasis on good manners, and almost all problems are resolved by wit, not force.
Diana Wynne Jones novels
She has a much larger and more diverse body of work than Jane Austen, so it's not fair to say that all her books fit in here. Ms. Jones does have a penchant for plots of world- or universe-spanning impact, which isn't my first choice, and her characters don't tend to be especially genteel. Still, her protagonists are almost uniformly likeable, she writes with wit and humor, and nearly all her books have upbeat, happy endings.
The first three Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling
This series has gotten considerably darker over time, and while I enjoyed reading books 4 and 6 a great deal, they don't really fit in the "light-hearted, happy endings" genre. The earlier books lacked much in the way of "romance" and, as with Ms. Jones, there's no emphasis on the genteel, they do have an abundance of likeable characters, humor, and much of the problem-resolution was based on quick thinking
My main incentive in writing all this out was to solicit recommendations. There aren't many books that fit all the criteria I've listed, but perhaps some of you can recommend books that fit several of them. Any suggestions?