Monday, 22 September 2014

Genres (and why I don't like them)

The question I dread most (other than "You work in IT can you look at my computer?") is "What sort of books do you like?".

I have two problems with this. Firstly what is going to be gained by my answer? A generalised response simply can't express the breadth of literature available. A better question might be "what are you reading now" which would at least provide specific information. My second problem is the idea of pigeonholing books (or indeed anything) by giving them a genre or a label.

I can see the basic idea - classify the fiction by type, much as the reference books can be classified by subject - but fiction doesn't work like that. Authors (the best ones anyway) are always pushing what they do, exploring what other elements they can incorporate into their work to stimulate the reader (and often to defy their expectations).

This leaves the classification as a 'best guess'. Even in the libraries in our town some of them file the same books in different sections. What makes a book a 'thriller' or a 'crime' or 'adventure' book? The same book can be (and sometimes is) filed under all three.

To answer the question about what I like to read I often fall back on 'Science Fiction and Fantasy, mostly' (which is actually two). But this ignores that I like some of very nearly every 'genre'. This isn't because I am in any way 'collecting' genres. I'm not filling in the 'I-Spy Book Of Genres' and get to tick one off each time I read one (whatever happened to I-Spy books?). I just like reading good books (or at least books I find good). I don't honestly care what kind they are.

My favourite shelves in the libarary? "New Books", "Just Returned" and "Recommended Reads" because there the books are piled next to each other and not separated, a real opportunity to read something new and interesting.

Clearly we are never going to get rid of genres - it is too hard-wired into the human brain to want to say "this is like that" but it pays to ignore the labels and move outside of the comfort zones. You never know what you will find.

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