10 October 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Talking about Genres

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Talking about GenresLet's talk about genres. Do you understand all the nuances among the genres and subgenres? If you do, you're about ten steps ahead of me.

Yes, of course, I know the broad differences between mystery and fantasy, between historical romance and science fiction. I can also distinguish a cozy mystery from a police procedural.

Where I start to falter is when I try to separate a thriller from a mystery or, for example, general fiction from woman's fiction from new adult fiction from literary fiction.

I stew over genres and subgenres for a number of reasons, but two are especially important to me. First, I like being accurate when I describe a book in a review or feature. Second, this information helps me make wise choices when I buy books, accept books for review consideration, and borrow books from the library.

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Talking about GenresI know I can find descriptions of genres and subgenres via an Internet search, but I wish I had a clear, intuitive sense. Just take the category of speculative fiction: I like dystopian but not science fiction, I like steampunk but not cyberpunk, and I like magic but not psychic stuff. I wish there were an easy way to find the Mira Grants and N. K. Jemisins while avoiding the Neal Stephensons and Ursula K. LeGuins, all writing what has been described as speculative fiction . . . or is that science fiction?

The grid shows six popular speculative fiction titles, but despite sharing a genre, only half of these will ever make it onto my bookshelves. I give a resounding yes to Outlander (time travel), Pure (dystopian), and Visions (urban fantasy?). But it's a huge no way (you can't make me read these) to Rosemary's Baby (horror), Ender's Game (science fiction), and One Hundred Years of Solitude (magical realism--I tried, it's just not for me).

If you search for definitions of subgenres, you'll find only partial consensus among websites. One thing this has taught me is not to make snap decisions based solely on a single genre description. For example, I would have never read any of J. D. Robb's In Death books if I hadn't realized they were thrillers (mysteries?) as much as they were science fiction or romance. And how about Outlander? Which genre would call to you: historical fiction, speculative fiction, romance, family saga?

Anyway, I have no real point to make here except genres are something I think about as I try to define the books I like and the books I don't like and make decisions about what to read next. How about you? Can you make clear distinctions among the subgenres?


Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 10/10/16, 8:05 AM  

YES to all this! Before I started blogging, I had no idea there was anything call dystopian fiction or post-apocalyptic or whatever. I still don't really have a handle on speculative fiction and definitely don't know the difference between a mystery and a thriller...I kind of lump them together.

And what in the world is new adult? Different than YA?

There needs to be a definitive glossary for this! And thank you for letting me know I'm not alone in my confusion.

Mae Travels 10/10/16, 8:20 AM  

You piqued my curiosity so I started googling. I think AbeBooks is a plausible source of information on genre, including readers' lists of books classified by genre, and sometimes even discussions of the definition or history of a genre. Example--
-- a discussion of steampunk as cultural phenomenon.

I have one question: are you sure that the category will always determine if you like the book? For example, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "A Wild Sheep Chase" are both at least sometimes classified as magical realism, but I'm not sure the same people would like/dislike both of them. And then there's Margaret Atwood.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

bermudaonion 10/10/16, 8:54 AM  

I struggle with genres too, especially when a book seems to fit in several of them.

Kailana 10/10/16, 9:07 AM  

I struggle with that sort of stuff, too. Thankfully I like all the stuff you liked plus all the stuff you didn't. I am pretty easy-going with fantasy or science fiction and any of the subgenres. lol That is why I own so many books, I read across too many genres. That being said, just because I like the genre doesn't mean I will like the book. I did not like Ender's Game and the rude stuff the author spews has made it so I am unlikely to support him and give him another chance. I liked One Hundred Years of Solitude, but everyone was named the same name and I got confused sometimes. lol That's sad you don't like magic realism because it can be very understated in books like those by Sarah Addison Allen. I think she is my favourite magic realism author. Oh, no, Isabel Allende's book sometimes count, too...

rhapsodyinbooks 10/10/16, 9:47 AM  

I agree, lots of muddling. The important thing is for users to somehow find what they want after one specific genre is selected for filing the book in a library or bookstore. It's hard sometimes!

Daryl 10/10/16, 10:39 AM  

i think you would actually like Ender's Game .. it is science fiction but its more than that ..

MG 10/10/16, 2:41 PM  

I am laughing at the display that has Outlander (a book I loathed) and One Hundred Years of Solitude (a book I loved) in the same "genre". The thinking behind genre tags is that they will get the right books to the right readers. The problem is that they (the publishers, I think) have created so many genres that everyone is confused. By targeting such specialized markets, they miss a lot of potential customers. The one I most dislike is "Literary Fiction" which strikes me as a snobby value judgement rather than a classification by subject or reader interest.

I often wonder how many great books I've missed because they were labeled (or placed in a bookshop or library)in a genre that I usually don't read. I did a blog on some off-my-genre titles that I didn't miss back in 2014.
( http://marista.blogspot.com/2014/12/top-10-books-that-blew-my-mind-in-2014.html )

Greg 10/10/16, 3:42 PM  

Speculative fiction is a mishmash of all kinds of stuff, seems like. I share your confusion about some of it. I'm kinda new to urban fantasy and sometimes have a hard time distinguishing it from paranormal romance. I guess they overlap (maybe?). I'm not a big horror fan either although I do like an occasional creepy read or a scary thriller- but nothing gory or gross.

I didn't even know dystopian was a thing before I started blogging. I mean I knew of the books but to me I would have just thought science fiction or maybe YA. Speaking of YA, I know the difference between that and NA is the age of the protagonist (I think), but there seems to be a lot of overlap there too. Some books should clearly be NA based on content, seems to me, but are commonly shelved in YA. Yikes if a 13 yr old grabs one of those. I guess that's a different discussion though.

Classifying something like Outlander is interesting to me because for a long time I thought it was just historical fiction, not realizing there's time travel. does that make it spec fic too? I have no idea!! lol

Tina 10/10/16, 4:20 PM  

Good question with no helpful answer from me...alas. Just as you mentioned Outlander.....I never knew whether to describe it as fantasy (because of the time travel) or romance because...well there's a lot of shagging going on in that book, or historical fiction. They all fit,

I read the jackets of new books to see if the plot interests me, be damned ot the genre it's classed. that me, all rebel :-)

Sue Jackson 10/10/16, 6:51 PM  

Margaret Atwood (Queen of many of the genres you're discussing here!) wrote a nonfiction book discussing exactly this - the differences and similarities and what's what. Here's my review:


And sometimes, you have to just ignore the labels and listen to recommendations - like you are really missing out by dismissing Ender's Game as Science Fiction. Yes, it is, but it is also a human drama and extraordinarily well-written - one of the best books I've ever read, in fact.

Same with Sleeping Giants which I just finished. One of my neighborhood book group members said, "OH, I wouldn't like that. I don;t like sci fi," but it is SUCH a good book!! And again, a human drama (and a fascinating one at that) that happens to include some sci fi elements (in this case, alien technology).

Very interesting and thought-provoking discussion! Thanks :)

Book By Book

Nise' 10/10/16, 10:06 PM  

It is hard when a book fits into a few or even many genres. I do my best not to make snap decisions based on genre and avoid the question when I recommend a book ;O0.

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