What are the classics of genre fiction?
April 3, 2008 2:42 AM   Subscribe

What are the classics of genre fiction? What are the best thrillers, mysteries, westerns, horror, romances, etc?

I just finished "True Grit" by Charles Portis and loved it, looking for more good books outside the mainstream. I've read a lot of SF and Fantasy already, so don't really need suggestions for those.
posted by TheophileEscargot to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
James Elroy has written quite a few books dealing with mostly Los Angeles crime.
posted by Scientifik at 2:50 AM on April 3, 2008

And Neil Gaiman and Chuck Palahniuk are good, a bit more surrealistic.
posted by Scientifik at 2:52 AM on April 3, 2008

That's a difficult question to answer - take crime / mystery for instance, Agatha Christie would generally regarded to be a classic, if not the classic in that genre, but as to whether they are the best is another question entirely, and dependent on what exactly you are looking for.

In the same vein, I would say Stephen King or James Herbert could be the man for horror, thrillers might be someone like John Grisham and for romance, the classic standard is probably something by Mills and Boon. It could be argued that these authors epitomise the genre in which they work but are they the best.... Classics by default are usually firmly in the mainstream.

In SF for example, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? might be considered a classic in its genre but I enjoyed Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks more. Which one is better? Which is a classic?

You'll no doubt get some good answers on here, but the definition is a tricky one. Just saying.
posted by jontyjago at 3:09 AM on April 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks jontyjago. I was thinking more of the books that epitomize their genre.

For instance, I would say Asimov's "Foundation" is a classic SF novel, even though it would probably be judged harshly by mainstream standards (weak characters and relationships for instance).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:17 AM on April 3, 2008

Margery Allingham's Campion novels are very fine (crime) genre novels.

Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels, especially the earlier ones.

John Buchan's Hannay novels.
posted by zemblamatic at 3:37 AM on April 3, 2008

Mystery classics:

Poe's Dupin stories.
Conan Doyle's Holmes stories.
Agatha Christie, of course.
Chandler & Hammett for the hardboiled contingent.
posted by juv3nal at 3:39 AM on April 3, 2008

I don't know if they're the best, but if you're looking for off-mainstream books to enjoy, you might try A Slight Trick of the Mind or The Final Solution: A Story of Detection. They're both about Sherlock Holmes at a very advanced age, around the time of WWII. I really enjoyed them. The Final Solution is more of a mystery novel, but I thought A Slight Trick of the Mind is slightly better overall.
posted by Coventry at 3:52 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

People don't write gothic novels any more, but Mary Stewart's "Nine Coaches Waiting" is reportedly one of the best. (I read it recently and found it highly entertaining but also very dated).

Georgette Heyer is probably the best writer for genre romances, and "The Grand Sophy" one of her best books.
posted by Jeanne at 4:20 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Wikipedia entry for genre fiction and the entries on specific genres of genre fiction (like crime fiction) may be of help.
posted by book at 5:20 AM on April 3, 2008

Dorothy L. Sayers' mysteries are both classics and very good - and enjoyable - reads.
posted by rtha at 5:24 AM on April 3, 2008

The Day of the Jackal defines modern thriller in my mind. Never been bettered.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:08 AM on April 3, 2008

H.P. Lovecraft is pretty quintessential when it comes to "terror beyond reckoning" horror fiction.
posted by Nelsormensch at 6:16 AM on April 3, 2008

"Hound of the Baskervilles" -- Arthur Conon Doyle
"The ABC Murders" - Agatha Christie
"The Maltese Falcon" -- Dashell Hammet

"Wuthering Heights" -- Emily Brontë
"Jane Eyre" -- Charlotte Brontë
"Emma" -- Jane Austen

"Turn of the Screw" -- Henry James
"The Call of Cthulhu" -- H.P. Lovecraft
"The Pit and the Pendulum" -- Edgar Allan Poe

"Lonesome Dove" -- Larry McMurty

"The Time Machine" -- H.G. Wells
"1984" -- George Orwell
"Brave New World" -- Aldus Huxley

"Alice in Wonderland" -- Lewis Carroll
"Winnie-the-Pooh" -- A.A. Milne
"The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" -- C.S. Lewis
"Huckleberry Finn" -- Mark Twain
posted by grumblebee at 6:46 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great Western: Warlock (1958)
posted by johngoren at 8:03 AM on April 3, 2008

I would suggest Stephen Kings Danse Macabre for a good grounding in what makes horror work, and a walkthrough of some of the classics of the genre.

For a weight reading list, with reasons why you would want to read teh books and an indication of their importance, I would suggest Stephen Jones and Kim Newmans Horror: 100 Best Books.

Pretty much anything by Kim Newman on genre fiction and why it works is worth reading.
posted by Artw at 9:12 AM on April 3, 2008

SOunds like you have things covered on the SF side, but I would suggest checking out the Orion SF Masterworks series. As a reading list of classic SF it's pretty much unbeatable (plus their paperbacks are really quite nice). They have a Fanatsy Masterworks series as well, which I would assume is just as good.
posted by Artw at 9:16 AM on April 3, 2008

I'm usually not a genre fiction fan and I'm really picky about books being well written, but I love Alan Furst WWII spy novels. They're gritty and dripping with atmosphere. I'd recommend the Polish Officer. And a good John LeCarre can really be quite good too, though I haven't read enough to recommend one over another. Another genre author is Jim Thompson for hard-boiled pulp crime novels. Try Hell of a Woman or The Killer Inside Me. And read a Cormack McCarthy, he's all over the map genre wise. Blood Meridian for western, or Child of God for southern gothic or The Road for post-apocalyptic.
posted by tula at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2008

Ian Flemings worth a read, though some of the James Bond books are much better than others – From Russia With Love is particularly worthwhile. The Man who Saved England has some great cultural context on the books and why they were important.
posted by Artw at 11:10 AM on April 3, 2008

If you're in the mood for a classic western I would go for Louis L'Amour. I haven't read one since I was young and I don't know how they've aged. I remember liking Hondo.
posted by Quonab at 1:52 PM on April 3, 2008


Chandler and Hammett, yes. Patricia Highsmith, like Strangers on a Train or the Ripley books. Jim Thompson is a must. David Goodis. For more hardcore hardboiled you need James Ellroy (his LA quartet including The Black Dahlia and LA Confidential), Andrew Vachss. James Cain. JOhn D. McDonald. Mickey Spillane is still held up as hardboiled classic, but his books are awful.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:39 PM on April 3, 2008

I'll add Double Indemnity by James M Cain for noir.

Also, Robert Howard's Conan books are classic sword and sorcery pulp
posted by Large Marge at 7:52 PM on April 3, 2008

The hot American "West" (but not Western) writer du jour is Cormac McCarthy. As a kid I loved Robert McCammon's horror novels. Stephen King, if you're the one person who hasn't read him. And for really fast-paced horror/sci-fi/thrillers, try Dean Koontz. Like Stephen King, Koontz's older stuff is good, his stuff of the past 10 years or so is pretty lame.
posted by zardoz at 12:09 AM on April 4, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Lots of good suggestions there: I've added a few to my amazon basket now.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:39 AM on April 4, 2008

For that Hammett/Chandler California noir mystery thing, I'd add Ross Macdonald to the list. The Chill is excellent in every way. For LeCarre spies, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the one to start with. It feels a bit slow in the beginning, but the ending packs a whallop and makes you want to read the beginning all over again.
posted by lovecrafty at 2:01 PM on April 4, 2008

There are still GOTHIC novels out there, but many have just incorporated gothic themes rather than being overtly castles+knights+virgins+blood+supernatural. Beloved by Toni Morrison for example has a lot of gothic elements. Other novels use elements such as telescoping narrative that is common with Gothic books (Wuthering Heights, for example). Joyce Carol Oates puts out a lot of gothic fiction, my favorite is her "Collector of Hearts" short story collection.

- Chuck
posted by musicfriend at 6:44 PM on April 8, 2008

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