Reflections of a Genre Writer

I don’t give much thought to genre. When I do, I have to admit, genre is pretty useful. Imagine a world without it. The whole experience of shopping in a bookstore is helped enormously by genre. If we didn’t have genre, shopping for books would be harrowing. Just a big pile of books, all willy nilly in the store. David Sedaris’ latest collection of essays on top of the hot new art & culture cookbook from Quirk next to a self-help guide on avoiding poverty by collecting stamps. Under a cookbook. It would be madness, I tell you. Sheer madness.

Or even if you put them into some type of order, without genre, you’re basically sunk. Alpha by author? Yeah, OK: but then you end up with Anne Rice, David Adams Richards and Linda L. Richards all in a row. That does not make sense to me.

Or alpha by title. And then you’ve got Paradise Lost by John Milton, Paradise Lost by Taffy Cannon and Paradise Lost by J.A. Jance all jumbled up together. Again: no sense.

Genres help with that. They provide the means by which you can go into the bookstore knowing you enjoyed a book by, say, Margaret Atwood and easily discover where in the store people who write stuff like Margaret Atwood are shelved. It’s sensible.

It’s unfortunate for some people that they get to feeling genre assignments are like a badge or a label, or even an accusation. That, with a different label, the book would be better or different or something else. A child’s got to have a name, my father used to say to me. Which sort of goes with, A rose by any other name. And then there’s the whole sticks and stones thing. Take the saying that suits your mood, the upshot is, whatever genre assignment we choose to give a book will not alter what’s between the covers. But they really do help to make bookstores less confusing to negotiate.

Comments

Steve G said…
I don't shop like my wife. I like to walk into a store, got to the section for what I want, and drop it into the basket. I'm the same in a book store. I know what I'm looking for and that's where I go. If I have to wonder around, forget It. I'm out of there.
Sandra Ruttan said…
I was looking for a list of books the other day, and found Tess Gerritsen, PJ Parrish, amongst countless others, in the fiction section. I found it frustrating, because I expected these authors to be in the myster/crime/thriller shelves. The list is actually much longer - about half the authors I needed to look up books from weren't in mystery.

I don't know if that's a plus or a minus, to be honest. I just know that if you're going to categorize the books, then for crying out loud, shouldn't you be able to find the mystery books in the mystery section? I could understand if it was a possible romantic suspense crossover, but with general fiction? What is general fiction anyway?

I'm so confused.
Steve: You make a great point for genre. It's good, isn't it, to know where to look for what you want?

And Sandra: your point is in favor of genre, as well, I think. And look what happens when bookstores don't play along. I don't think it's their fault, really. They do the best they can with what they got. But I think sometimes publishers can be a little coy about genre because they're trying to please all the people all the time. And you know how that goes. "You want a mystery? Sure, sure: this is a mystery. But if you want it to be self-help, maybe it can be that too."
Sandra Ruttan said…
I suddenly feel the urge to write a mystery that centers around an attempt to murder a self-help guru.

Dale Carnegie: The Friend He Failed To Win Wonder if that would have a broad appeal?
Sandra that sounds perfect. Perhaps with a modifcation or two? How to Kill Friends and Influence People for instance?

Give 'er!
Sandra Ruttan said…
Oh, I like your title!

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