On the Subject of Genre

I am often asked, “Erik, how is it that you choose which genre to classify the books you review?”. Well, not often…or at all. However, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend people do ask me that and that it has happened so often that it warrants a blog post.

There; now that we are all operating under the same collective delusion, how do I go about assigning genre?

To be honest, I find that the best way to do so is to take the broadest classification possible based on the themes and motifs that are present in the story. To better illustrate this, I’ll use two of my reviews as examples (because who doesn’t love a shameless plug? No shame here): Soul Hunter and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

For Soul Hunter, I classify it as science fiction because the story takes place many years in the future and showcases technology that we currently don’t have. At least, I’m unaware of our ability to create super human warriors if such a thing exists. Also, aliens. There are many subgenres that Soul Hunter can fall into, however I think that using a broader term helps to recommend at a glance and the review then dives into more of the specifics.

Soul Hunter has aspects of horror, political intrigue, some fantasy, and elements of war stories, but it is the science fiction world, or galaxy in this case, that it all takes place within that defines it most.

Now, my review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Or Philosopher’s Stone, if you’re from anywhere besides America) and the subsequent reviews of the series have two genres posted: fantasy AND magical realism. This is due to the fact that fantasy is so ridiculously broad that The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire both fall into that category. I don’t think I need to explain the differences between these two series, due to their popularity in popular culture.

Due to this immense category, I added magical realism to help focus in on the type of fantasy that Harry Potter falls into so that those who take the recommendation understand that it takes place in a world much like ours but that has magical elements which sets it firmly in the realm of fantasy. However, the setting dictates a necessary distinction because it isn’t in the same vein as say high fantasy, which would focus on knights, castles, and often take place in the past.

The Harry Potter series also can be classified as children’s literature and young adult fiction depending on the book, so while these are appropriate to the stories, I don’t think they are large enough to define them as a whole.

It is important to remember that genre is often defined by majority consensus and people often disagree on genre. That is okay. Humans seek to find meaning through classification so it is natural for us to try and put the art we enjoy into categories to better understand and recommend them to others who might enjoy them as well.

So that is how I choose which genre to classify the books I review. What do you think? How do you go about choosing which books to read and is genre a contributing factor? Feel free to comment below.

The featured image can be found through the hyperlink below.
Genre image

8 thoughts on “On the Subject of Genre

  1. I really like this topic of discussion. Do you find yourself debating where on the bookshelves of your mind, you would categorize your most recent read? My book club has been discussing what qualifies as “Literature” and each of us give varied answers. Would you be willing to take a stab at a working definition?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm well I think a lot of people make defining literature more difficult than it really needs to be. Personally, I take the loosest definition, that being any published book or written word (i.e. comics and graphic novels) that is culturally significant. Now, I realize that 50 Shades of Grey technically falls under this definition due to its popularity but if we put our own personal preferences into defining literature, I think that doesn’t do the word justice. I had a college professor who scoffed at Dan Brown and Stephen King, stating that they aren’t real literature but I believe they are just as deserving to be included as Hemmingway or Austen (neither of which I am a fan of). Personal definitions are inherently subjective so I respect anyone who would hold the same opinion as my professor, but I don’t personally like to box in the various forms of the art of writing.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post! Genre is absolutely a contributing factor for me in deciding what to read next. I really don’t like to read the same genre back-to-back, and like to vary my reading. For instance right now I’m reading a mystery, but next I might go for a fantasy or perhaps some historical fiction. And I pretty much agree with you on choosing the broadest genre in labeling a book. I think it makes things simpler.


    1. Variety definitely helps, especially if you are reading “genre” specific books like science fiction or mystery that have very set rules and tropes. I have started a sort of pattern this year of reading a book for fun (usually sci fi or fantasy), a “classic”, a book for fun, and then a nonfiction book. I haven’t read much nonfiction since I was little so I find this helps take me out of my comfort zone while learning more about subjects I am interested in from the real world. Thanks for commenting!

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  4. The distinction between science fiction and fantasy is a wonderful topic to debate, partly because it never really ends.
    I had a professor in college who argued that, “Science Fiction tries to explain the impossible by building upon our existing understanding of the universe, while fantasy creates an alternative universe where different rules apply.”

    But then there are differences of narrative style and meaning. Most science fiction stories (among those that I’ve read), focus on the imperfect nature of humanity, and how no one is truly good or evil, while fantasy, for a long time, focused on simple and clear moral alignments, and a certain “let’s have fun” adventure style of narrative, without getting bogged down in moral ambiguities.

    In some ways, even though it’s clearly a technology focused narrative, Ready Player One follows a very classic fantasy trope, the “nobody” protagonist who becomes part of a grand quest/adventure.
    And then of course we have stories like the 90s TV show Gargoyles, which featured futuristic robots and magic spells.

    But I think you are right that it often comes down to concensus, and there isn’t a rule that dictates how many genres or subgenres a specific story may represent.

    For my part, I definitely tend to wander, but often the stories that really interest me feature otherworldly elements; often found in fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I remain open to all genres, but I’m particularly drawn to stories that take place in a setting very unlike the world I live in.


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