Historical Fiction and Genre Friction

[This is an excerpt from the editor’s note of today’s issue of REaD ALERT. Feel free to weigh in!]

Genre fiction is hotter than ever, but how long will current genre classifications do the job? Take Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series, for example, which is a fine and creative example of the mystery. Or are these books historical fiction? Or even westerns? Well, given the deducifyin’ of the Amlingmeyer brothers, we’ll continue to categorize these entertaining books as mysteries, but solving the mysteries of genre sure ain’t as easy as it used to be.

In our mashup-crazy, zombie-besotted culture, genre-bending is a trend that shows no signs of abating. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead’s Newbery winner, features time travel and a mystery and could, by virtue of its 1970s time frame, be considered historical fiction, too. Is Twilight fantasy or romance? And what the hell is Going Bovine? Some of these genre crossers may pass the Holmes Test, but some of them require extensive testing to determine their genetic genre makeup.

Booklist Cover - April 15, 2010This is less of a problem for review databases such as Booklist Online—we can easily add secondary genres that help power searches—and more of a problem for libraries and bookstores. If you put the right book in the wrong place, the right readers won’t find it. So what do you do where you work? And where do you see this trend going? Are genre classifications going the way of top hats and spats, or will we see genres fragment until mystery, sf, fantasy, romance, and horror are useless without the qualifiers historical, paranormal, graphic, and even straight? And are genres useful to you or do you despise the very existence of such labels?

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

1 Comment on "Historical Fiction and Genre Friction"

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  1. jbelcher@southplainscollege.edu' jim belcher says:

    I recently moved from a public library to an academic library so fiction is no longer much of a factor, but in my last two libraries we pretty much eliminated genre designations for the reasons you outlined. One of those libraries still has a romance section by popular demand. I moved away from genre shelving for four reasons: it takes more space, it splits the work of some authors, too many books defy classification, and not doing it enhances browsing and those wonderful serendipidous finds by patrons that thought they only liked one genre.

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