An Addendum: Categorizing Fiction

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One of the things I wanted to talk about in yesterday’s post on why the best fiction fits somewhere was my personal take on dividing books by generic category (in bookshops and elsewhere).  But then I thought:  why not offer my brief take and then see what you all think about the issue in general.  And that’s what I’m going to do.

What do you think about the way in which books are divided in most bookstores?  Do you like that there is a YA section, a science fiction and fantasy section, a general fiction section, a mystery section, and so on?  Do you find them useful as a book shopper?  Do you find them inadequate?  Let me know in the comments.

As for me, I find the categories in bookstores useful, but inadequate.  One of the things I think publishers should do is label books by their most obvious categories, which bookstores would then use to place books which clearly cross generic lines in multiple places.  I don’t see the point in saying a book like 1984 by George Orwell or Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or July’s People by Nadine Gordimer (etc. etc. etc.) shouldn’t be placed in both the general/literary fiction section and the science fiction section.  Likewise, a
book like Farthing by Jo Walton (and the other books in her series) should be in the SF/F section and the mystery section; the fact that it’s not is a failure to recognize how it plays with the alternate history and mystery genres so effectively.

Cross-pollination is crucial to the success of literature.  I think people who love SF/F would also love David Mitchell or Nadine Gordimer, or Murikami and Ishiguro, or Rushdie and Ghosh, or Jackson and Winterson.  Books that cross genres should be in both places so that people with particular reading tastes can find them.  I don’t generally go to the “general fiction” section in the bookstore, in part because it’s impossible for me to find anything at all that I would want to read in there.  General fiction is the most disorganized “genre” bookstores have.  But if you had put Cloud Atlas in the SF/F section, I might have picked it up well before I realized academics were talking about it.  I might have recommended it to all my friends.

But that’s my take.  I like the idea of cross-pollination because it opens up the reading circles of, well, readers.  And that’s a good thing.

Now it’s your turn!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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