Welcome to Caitlin Considers, my fortnightly discussion post. Today I'm looking at genres, the benefits of them and also the downsides.
Genre is usually one of the first things we look at when thinking about whether to read a book. Is it YA or Adult? Is it Fantasy or Contemporary? Often we have favourite genres and actively hunt out books within them. Occasionally we might avoid books classified as a certain genre, because we 'know' we don't like it.Genres can be especially useful when we've loved one book and want to read something similar. If you've just read The Hunger Games, for example, most people will probably direct you to Divergent, or The Maze Runner or something similar. Without genres, this task would be harder.Genre isn't just important for the readers, it's important for publishers too. That way, they can market books towards people who will enjoy them, fans of that genre. Without that, every book would have to be marketed at everyone, which would definitely make marketing campaigns less effective.
But genres CAN cause confusion. Namely, what genres do we give certain books? Let's look at The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.It could probably be classified as Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance, personally I'd call it Urban Fantasy. Why? Well, the urban part is pretty obvious. But why Fantasy rather than Paranormal Romance? Well...it just feels more that way to me. (**I asked Cassie Clare and she said it is Urban Fantasy...but I figured it still made a good example ;)** ) With a PNR, I tend to see the romance as the key element, whereas with TMI, the romance IS important, but it's *not* the main thing. So which is it...Paranormal Romance, or Urban Fantasy? Or is it just Paranormal fiction? All These Things I've Done is another example. Before reading, I would have described it as a Dystopian. After reading, I think it's more Contemporary, set in a vaguely dystopian society. And from reading reviews, it seems as though a few people were disappointed by how un-dystopian it was. Which makes you wonder, if they hadn't thought it was dystopian in the first place, would they have felt differently about it? So, is genre-confusion an actual problem? Have any of you ever read a book and thought "but what *genre* is it?"
How do we decide? Is there some kind of objective set of guidelines we can apply to books? Should we leave it upto the authors and the publishers to decide or is it in the hands of the fans, those who read widely and maybe know best? Or should there be objective judges? Do we go off whatever the main theme of the book is? And what happens when you find a book that seems to defy genre, like The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater...what would you classify that as? It's slightly paranormal, slightly contemporary, it's definitely fairly literary...and there's horses. Does it need a genre, or can there be exceptions to the genre rule?
How much damage do genre classifications cause? I bet there are tonnes of people who wont read ANY Paranormal Romance because of Twilight, or even any YA because of their perceived notions of it. Up until a few months ago, I wouldn't read any contemporary fiction. Why? "because I don't like it". Bollocks, how I can just decide to dislike a whole genre? But that's the thing, it's SO easy to do. I hated LOTR so I'll hate all Fantasy. I wont like women's fiction because...well, I just wont. We don't always judge books on the merits of them in themselves, but based on what we assume they will be like, and a lot of this is down to what genre we think they are.
What do you guys think? Are genres important to you or not? Do you lie awake at night, desperately trying to categorise books or do you actually really not care as long as you enjoyed it? Would you avoid any books because of the genre they are/you think they are?
And finally....a little exercise. How would you classify the books/series below? (I'm curious to see if people's answers differ)
The Mortal Instruments by Cassie Clare
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
The Demon Trappers by Jana Oliver