At ALA, I attended a great panel that was about genre fiction, led by three amazing women writers: Laura Lippman, Naomi Novik and Margaret Dilloway. Lippman writes mysteries, Novik is a historical fantasy type and Dilloway writes literary/women’s fiction (though she said she’s see her novel “The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns” mis-shelved as a gardening book.)
Their talk was about why we categorize books by genre and they had some really great points.
Novik said one advantage of genre was to deal with the breadth of fiction. It’s about capacity and being able to categorize and quantify what you like. Like Book A and there’s a good chance that you might like Book B in that same category.
Lippman made a great point that genre, unfortunately, has been used to categorize books though as something lesser. Genre fiction is often our “guilty pleasure” — but as she noted, “Where’s the guilt?” Why do we have to defend what we’re reading?
And the real problem with genre, they said, is the fact that more and more, the lines are crossing. Lippman who started her career with the Tess Monhagan mysteries is moving into quieter spaces she said, trying to get the suspense and shock down to much smaller level, wondering, perhaps at what point what she’s doing is no longer a mystery or suspense book. Novik’s books are historical, yes, but they involve dragons in the Napoleonic Wars…. so are they fantasy or historical fiction? Moreover, she noted that fanfic is blurring the lines between genres ever more and if you want to read some really specific blend, it probably exists somewhere.
Of course, librarians were some what a tizzy about the idea of maybe we should just get rid of genre classifications, although some were all for it.
I have marveled for instance, when thing don’t get classified (in my view) correctly. Case — Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series at my library is in fiction. It’s all set in a futuristic universe with demons and psionic spells. I looked for it first (incorrectly) in sci-fi because that’s what those elements say to me. Conversely, D.B. Jackson’s alternate history with magic Revolutionary War Boston Thieftaker series is in Sci-fi. I’m not a cataloging librarian and I think I’d go crazy trying to make these choices if I were one.
Where’s this all leave us?
I have no idea. Part of me says, mix it all together. Part of me agrees with Novik that segmenting things by genre helps us find what we want. No matter which it is, I completely agree with Lippman: Let’s not feel guilty about reading genre fiction.
(Who remembers those spine stickers on books for genres? Borrowed these images from Demco…Thanks!)