Walk into a bookstore, and chances are you’ll see books divided into sections by genre. Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Mystery, and so on. It’s the most common system of categorizing books, conversationally and from the data-management perspective of the book world. Genre is also incredibly limiting at times.
There are dozens upon dozens of subgenres across the genres of popular fiction (Romance, Crime, and Science Fiction/Fantasy, plus some others). Science Fiction gets sliced up into Space Opera, Mundane SF, Hard SF, Cyberpunk, Dieselpunk, etc. These subgenres can get hard to keep track of, especially since their boundaries are often porous, and even life-long fans often disagree on the borders between sub-genres, policing them inefficiently but with gusto. At times it’s fun to argue classifications, try to find exactly the right place to frame a piece so that its cultural and narrative context is most clear. And narrow sub-genres can be useful for putting works into clusters for conversation, but it’s also really easy to slice so thin that the discussion becomes obscure or self-serving rather than practical.
Ultimately, a hardline This-or-That, pigeonholing system of defining genre and works is far more trouble than it’s worth, and can do a great disservice to works that defy easy categorization. Most traditional systems in the publishing industry fit into the pigeonholing system. BISAC Codes (basically trade publishing’s official genre system) are fairly granular, but totally fail to keep up with the proliferation of sub-genres, and the genre categorization systems of all of the major ebook retailers fall victim to the same This-or-That approach.
But there is hope. And unsurprisingly, it comes from the internet.
The Tag. You know, this little thing: #
Whether it’s hashtags on Tumblr, metadata tagging in LibraryThing, or conversational hashtags on Twitter, readers conversant in internet discourse are more and more familiar with the concept of tagging works – using a Yes-And approach for categorization instead of This-or-That.
Tagging is incredibly liberating. A work can be tagged #urban fantasy, #YA, #LGBTQ, #domestic violence #Cleveland #1970s, meaning that if a reader has access to those tags as part of the information given to them about a work, they can very quickly identify its major facets.
. . . .
Let’s take some well-known titles and re-present them with a set of tags.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the the Philosopher’s Stone) #Fantasy #Middle Grade, #Magical School, #Friendship #Prophecy #Rags to Riches #England #Hidden Magical World #Series
Or The Martian, by Andy Weir #Science Fiction #Adult #Mars #Survival #MacGyver #Epistolary #Space Exploration #Thriller #Disco #Man Vs Nature #Stand-alone #Voice-Driven #Try-Fail Cycles
And looking back at a classic, how about Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen: #Romance #Adult #Regency #Hate At First Sight #Suitors #Order of Marriage #Sisters #England #Gentry #Banter #Drawing Room Politics #Gender
Link to the rest at boingboing and thanks to Meryl for the tip.