Genre Status: It’s Complicated

I was perusing the Twitosphere today and came across a link from Electric Literature to this map from Pop Chart Labs:


You can blow it up on Electric Literature’s site so it’s actually readable. I’ve spent the last twenty minutes or so absorbed in its intricacies–which is somewhat ironic, considering my own view on genre is similar to the theory posited by Pop Chart Labs, that genres “exist for the benefit of bookstores and at the expense of readers.” I would take it even further and say the existence of genre is to the detriment of literature in general, allowing certain high-brow literary types to dismiss valuable authors as “genre writers” simply because their story takes place in a speculative reality. Which is asinine, if you think about it. The settings in literary fiction are often just as made up as those in fantasy novels; those settings just happen to follow more of the real world’s rules. Conversely, the characters and events in works of science fiction are often just as based on real life as those in more realistic fiction. We’re all writers, after all; we all steal from what we see around us.

Regardless, what struck me most about this highly detailed map was the extent to which the creator broke it down. Fantasy alone is broken into 11 subgenres, and is still missing a few. Where’s urban fantasy? Why is vampire under “horror” when modern vampire fiction typically runs more erotic than horrifying? Is Discworld really best described as “mythic,” or should there be a humorous fantasy category?

Which raises another question: If genre must be divided to this degree to be truly accurate, can it really be an effective means of categorization, even for bookstores? How often do you see an “occult detective” shelf? And where do the books go that fall between these highly-dissected definitions? Food for thought, albeit from an admittedly anti-genre biased source.

Though the map looks pretty nifty, and I still want it on my wall.


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