Literary genres: Necessary or restrictive?

With an approximate number of 4 million books being published every year, originality is hard to come by. The confining idea that we must fit books into specific genres is a key factor contributing towards the ever more apparent lack of variety.

In a bookstore, books are organised into sections, by genre. While this can help you to quickly find the type of book you are interested in, it can be argued that this is more beneficial from a marketing perspective, rather than being particularly beneficial to the consumer themselves. Publishing companies benefit from marketing a book as a romance, for example, with the ‘enemies to lovers’, ‘friends to lovers’ or ‘second chance’ tropes. This is because, often, readers look for these buzz words and phrases when picking out a book. So, the more commonly popular tropes that a book claims to include, the more copies it will sell.

However, books can fit into many different genres, rather than just one binary category. Therefore, to classify them as falling under just one genre is to minimise them and fail to appreciate their depth. For example, marketing a book like Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut novel, Open Water, as a romance, just because it does contain a love story, would be almost disrespectful, as it really is about so much more. From a heart-wrenching exploration of the persecution faced by people of colour to relatable reflections on struggles with identity and masculinity, and the feeling that no one truly sees you for who you are, this book contains depths. Another example is Jojo Moyes’ Me before You, also often marketed as a romance, which doesn’t take into consideration its other themes, including loss, depression, struggles with disability and much more.

An upsetting disadvantage of this publishing tactic is that it can cause readers to avoid a book from one particular genre, as this is a genre that they tend to stay away from, or have not enjoyed in the past. While this book may have become an all-time favourite, they have dismissively passed over it, without realising the nuances it holds. Therefore, they have completely missed out on the lasting significance that this literary experience may have marked them with, like two ships passing in the night.

Not only does this affects readers, but also authors and the way they write. The literary scene is now overflowing with clichés, as if these books have been written by an author holding a checklist of tropes to tick off. This has lead to a mass overproduction of trope-filled books which are so focused on confining themselves to the stereotypes of the ‘romance’ or the ‘fantasy’ genre that they all read the same. While these cliché genre-specific tropes can be fun at first, it can easily send a reader spiralling into a book slump, upon coming to the realisation that there is nothing new under the sun.

Considering these observations, it is important for readers to focus more on a book’s actual contents, by perhaps opting to read its blurb or perhaps its first page, before simply ruling it out because of its genre. 

Featured image: Rudy Issa via Unsplash

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