Thursday, February 24, 2011

Edgy Books vs. Gentle Books

At the recent writer's conference that I attended, someone (I think it was Tracy Hickman) said something that sparked my interest. He said many authors have "edgy fatigue" and wished that there was a market for a more "gentle" sort of book. I found this fascinating, though it didn't really lead the panel to much further discussion on the issue. But in my head, the discussion took off!

What is edgy? And what is gentle? Do authors really yearn to be able to write a more gentle book? Do readers need it? Or are they, as was suggested, clamoring more for the edgy?

I use the term "gritty" interchangeably with edgy. To me it means pushing the envelope a bit. It means there's stuff in the book that may make you squirm a little. Perhaps the subject matter is hard. Perhaps there's lots of violence and street talk and rough characters. Perhaps there's parts that make you want to close your eyes in denial. "Stuff happens" in edgy books I would say.

However, in gentle books, there's not necessary a lot of stuff happening. It may be that it's more about the characters. It may be that it's more about relationships instead of stuff happening. The action, if any, is quieter and slower. People are perhaps, nicer. We might use the word "heart warming" for gentle books.

Let me be the first to say that I like both kind! Obviously, sometimes you are in the mood for one, and sometimes the other. But do you think that there's more of a market for the edgy? Do you think that if someone were to write a gentler book, no one would want to read it because it's boring and "nothing happens!"? I think there's a bit of truth in that. But I would hope that enough people are satisfied with a slower book such that there will in fact be a market for them.

So, what would I consider gentle books? I've been pondering, and it's a lot harder than you'd think to deem a book "gentle." Here's some that I've come up with:

1. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
2. At Home in Mitford Jan Karon
3. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons
5. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
7. My Ridiculous Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite
8. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
9. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
10. My Friend Flicka by Mary O'hara

What are your feelings on gentle books? Do they bore you? Are you looking for more action and edge? Or do appreciate the slowness of a gentle read? Do you agree with my list of gentle books? What would you add or take off this list?


  1. I am not sure about a general preference among readers, but for me it's about mood. Sometimes I eat up books (love Remains of the Day!), and at other times I just can't get through even the most action-filled or gritty book.

    I do find that unless I have a lot of time to devote to reading, I'm unable to get into slower-paced books that aren't exactly about what's happening. If I can only grab twenty minutes here or there, I need something that is faster in pace and where I don't need to spend time thinking about things I'm reading.

    I have not read half of those books! And I can't really think of any I'd add, at the moment.

  2. It's interesting to see your range of words for gentle titles -- heartwarming, quiet, slower. Not deeply flattering for a writer (please don't take offense!).

    While I don't write edgy, I hope I don't write sweet. Does this make sense? I will never be a flashy, envelope-pushing writer. It's not my style. Still, there must be a place between gentle and edgy where my work would fall.

    Other authors, what do you think? I'd love to hear more on this! Thanks, Suey, for starting the discussion.

  3. I'm with you, Suey. I think there's room for both. I was so ANGRY after I finished "Mockingjay" that I had to go and read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" again to feel better. It certainly had an edge, too, dealing with the horrors the people from Guernsey had to live through during the German occupation, but the humor and joy of life that drove it is uplifting. I can only take so much edgy. I wouldn't want a world with only gentle; we all need our thrills. ; )

  4. I'm such a moody reader, I take the edgy books and the gentle ones by turns.

  5. excellent post Suey, thought-provoking.

    i, too, often interchange gritty
    with edgy, but they are not necessarily the same. a "gentle" novel can have an edge that slices and provokes--and really, that is how i prefer my gentle reads. and i appreciate your list and the difficulty in creating one. i like that you listed quiet as a descriptor.

    i can see the desire to shock the reader into generating a pulse if the concern is a popular market inundated with relatively little variety. and some of that grit begins to feel recycled. it must be tiring to write to marketable expectation or the present feeding frenzy when high voltage stimulation is what they are seemingly clamoring for...

    i, like previous commenters, believe in the practice of a more balanced diet..

    besides, nothing is edgy if everything is edgy, is it?--except maybe those gentle books?


  6. I looove gentle books. I think it takes real talent to convey love and romance with out the obvious. Great post.

  7. I have a love for both types. The Blue Castle is a favorite as is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Polar opposites. It really depends on my mood and if I've had enough of one and need the other for a change.

  8. I like a nice gentle book -- some of the Persephones like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day fall into this category. I also read my first Miss Read recently, some people compare those to the Mitford books. It was a literary respite. I loved it.

  9. I love cozy mysteries and also Jan Karon.I have never thought of using the word gentle to describe them but it's probably appropriate.

  10. It's being fun to hear what everyone thinks! Thanks for the comments!

    Topher: Yes, definitely about mood for me too.

    Caroloine: Oh dear! I liked my words for gentle! I think quiet and slow are wonderful sometimes... but like I said... depending on your mood. I totally agree that there is a middle ground between the two, and in fact, probably most books fit into that spot.

    Donna: I almost put Guernsey on my list, but decided it just had enough "hard" stuff so I left it off.

    Andi: Exactly.

    L: LOVED when you said if everything is edgy, than gentle becomes edgy! Perfect! :)

    Juju: Yes, me too.

    Chris: Gentle is like a balm after reading too much edgy. I love it.

    Karen: Good suggestions!

    Ann: I loved this term too, which is why I just had to ponder it some more.

    Mandy: Awesome! Thanks. :)

  11. What a great list of books I consider gentle too.

    I too, have to switch between the gritty and gentle. When I book (especially Dystopian) is so gritty or depressing . A gentle reminds you that there is some good in the world.

  12. for me it's all about what I need... well, except when it's about what I've committed to review soon and have to finish!!!

    Sometimes Edgy is what I need... and sometimes Gentle gives me a lot of insight...

    I like your definition of Edgy a lot more than some people's by the way... because "Edgy" to them seems to mean it's okay to throw 20+ F'bombs into a YA novel... that kind of Edgy I can do without.

  13. As an author, to have your work described as quiet by an editor is a death knell. I have to remember, though, readers don't necessarily read and feel as editors do.

  14. If gentle means boring then I'd take edgy any day. But just because it's edgy doesn't mean it's gritty. Know what I mean? A fun fast paced adventure can be as clean as a boring (nothing happens) book. Wow, I feel like I'm not making sense. I just mean, I don't think gentle means boring.

  15. Laura: I agree, we need to remember that, that there is good.

    T: I don't like those F bombs either... and I would love edgy even more if that didn't seem to be a part of it.

    Caroline: I can see what you mean. But I for one, enjoy quiet now and then! But quiet and boring are two different things, right? Yep.

    TG: And gentle only means boring to SOME people... I'm guessing there's a lot of edgy books that are pretty boring too. But I get what you are saying. And I don't mean gentle to be just necessarily clean books, but less fast paced books and.... sheesh, I still like my quiet word! :)

  16. I think there is a time and place for gentle books, but I must admit I don't seek them out as much as I seek out edgy books.

  17. What a great discussion! I have to agree that which type of book I pick up depends on my mood. I like edgy and gentle both! Of the two, I think it may be a little harder to write the gentle stories, as you can't rely on action to propel the plot. Just my opinion of course, as I haven't written either.

    I'd add any of Debbie Macomber's books to the gentle list, as they are more character driven and "quiet". I love Debbie's books and they're almost like comfort food. :)
    Alexia's Books and Such...

  18. I loved a lot of the books on your list, so I think I'm a fan of gentle books. The key is, if there's not a lot of action, it has to be ebautifully written.



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