On The Stupidity of Book Genres

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When asked what kind of music he enjoyed listening to, Louis Armstrong once famously said, “There’s only two ways to sum up music: either it’s good or it’s bad. If it’s good, you don’t mess about it; you just enjoy it.”

Not only does that philosophy apply to music, the same holds true for all mediums of art. Music. Books. Dance. Painting. Films. For all artforms, if it’s good, you just enjoy it. Don’t mess about it.

Once upon a time, books were either fiction or non-fiction. Pretty simple. You knew the book was either about installing plumbing, or it was a makebelieve story. Those were the only two categories of books. (Depending upon which shelf you categorized Messianic religious texts, determined a lot about your personality.)

These days, the categories have gotten so granular, it’s ridiculous. We don’t just have “fiction” anymore. Now we have Children’s, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Short Fiction, Thriller, Westerns, Young Adult and it seems there are new genres and subgenres being promoted and marketed all the time.

Have people truly become so lazy?

That is what I attribute this trend to – laziness. People don’t want to explore anything new in their reading habits, so they lazily rely upon granular genres and subgenres to tell them what a story is about before they even pick it up. Sure, it’s science fiction, but is it cyberpunk or slipstream or space opera or dystopian or retro futurism or biopunk or time travel or pulp or blah, blah, blah? Who the fuck cares!? It’s a fucking book! Read it! You might like it!

For years now, society has lamented the fact that “people don’t read anymore” and, of course, this is far from the truth. Authors like J.K. Rowling couldn’t have become a billionaire if people weren’t reading books anymore. Plenty of people love to read. The problem is, folks have become so inundated with books, and so overwhelmed by the opportunities and potential of what to read, they are resorting to checking the genres first and the stories second. Shouldn’t the storytelling be the most important part?

I have seen even voracious readers being guilty of this discrimination and pickiness. “Can you recommend any good paranormal romance books with shapeshifting wizards in a forbidden love triangle?”

I’m not joking, man. People literally ask that kind of shit. Look around on some Internet forums, and you’ll find these bozos out there.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Do you truly want to be a reader, or an author, who only reads or writes certain genres of books? I mean, certainly, as an author, one can’t be expected to explore every single possible genre. Everyone will tend to gravitate toward certain thematic elements in their stories and those themes then translate into genres. Yes, fine. Fine. I certainly understand that. But, surely, any author worth his ink wants to write more than one type of book during his career. Right? Am I alone in this way of thinking? Stephen King writes more than horror. Ray Bradbury wrote more than science fiction. J.K. Rowling writes more than young adult books. Every author must branch out and try some new things. Doesn’t it get horribly boring to write the same style of work all the time? Shouldn’t all writers aspire to play in more than a single sandbox? Get out of your backyard and live a little bit? Go to the playground down the street?

Honestly, that is part of why I enjoy the idea of blogging. While I may have jumped on the blogging bandwagon far later than most, I derive pleasure from blogging because it’s a different style of writing. It’s different than my novels. It’s not like a journal. It’s a way to exercise the mind and the proverbial “writing muscles” in a new way.

After all, I see myself as a writer. Period. Not an author of fantasy or science fiction or horror or paranormal romance or literature or poetry and not even of fiction and non-fiction. I’m a writer. I write. That is the only label I’m willing to put upon what I create. I enjoy creative endeavors involving written language, so that is what makes me a writer. I don’t care to limit myself to a genre or a style or a type of writing. What kind of crap is that?

Wait. I take it back. I prefer “storyteller” far more than “writer”. The word “storyteller” conjures visions of wandering minstrels and mythic tales told by campfire light. The bardic imagery of “storyteller” is far more romantic than something so mundane as “writer”. I’m a “storyteller”, but I will never be “a storyteller of historical fantasy literature with cyberpunk underpinnings and sexy werewolves”. No thanks.

In all honesty, I do understand the need for genres in a marketing sense. I get it. I just don’t like it.

Maybe this is just one of many reasons I’ve never become an established author. Maybe I’m too stubborn and I just feel self-destructively compelled to rebel against every standard and caveat of the publishing industry. Maybe I’m too much of an asinine, idealistic, artistic bastard and not enough of a savvy businessman. “Uncompromising” applies to my demeanor far more than “diplomatic”.

All I’m saying is, enough with the microscopic categorizing into subgenres of subgenres of subgenres. Simply aspire to great writing. Then it won’t matter what genre the story happens to be in. Make it wonderful. Give it substance. Give it life. That’s all you need concern yourself with. Do that, and as good old Louis Armstrong would say, you don’t mess about it; you just enjoy it.