Genre Labelling

I was chatting away with a colleague today about how inconsistently some of our stock seems to get categorised when it comes to fiction. We’re both huge fans of science fiction and fantasy, and so it seemed odd that certain authors such as Ben Aaronovitch were being classed as thrillers for Large Print books, but SciFi/Fantasy for normal print.

There’s some degree of crossover that can be argued for Rivers of London to be a crime thriller, but the ghosts and magic would seem to tip that into the more speculative fiction camp. By the same argument, John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels are firmly presented as crime thrillers, but contain gothic horror, ghosts, angels, and malevolent elder gods that in other hands would have them be very strictly in sci-fi/fantasy.

And then we get into the classics. As I look across the shelves I see Dracula as a fantasy novel, but The Time Machine and Frankenstein as general fiction.

On the one hand I totally get that arbitrarily slapping genre fictions on stock helps people keep in their comfort zones and find similarly themed stories, but that only works if we’re consistent with our labelling – without even getting into conversations around genre-melding and crossover novels.

I do from time to time entertain the thought of eliminating genre labels for novels, to let authors of all kinds sit side by side and encourage a diversity of browsing in the library – but I suspect that this would be unpopular with a great many people. Perhaps if I ever open a bookshop I shall give it a try…

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