My Problem With Genre Definitions (148)

I’m currently reading what is classified by the publisher as a YA (young adult) novel. I’ve read other things about it that said it is an adult novel for young adults. I find these descriptors less than satisfying. I tend to avoid things classified as YA mostly because I’ve also been lead to believe that those books will contain glittery vampires and the like. I know I am painting in broad strokes but I hope you get my meaning.

The same that goes for classifying novels as sci-fi, romance, fantasy, literary fiction (which can probably encompass a whole different set of genres), mystery, horror, etc. You get the point. We are inundated with these identifying tags so everything can have its place. I don’t remember a time that literature wasn’t classified this way but I’m also sure that this wasn’t always the case.

John Updike said in an interview (that I’ll paraphrase here) that when he set out to write it was to do just that – write. During the course of his career he came to be classified into the literary fiction sub-genre. He disagreed with this classification, or rather argued against the use of it, on the grounds that his writing was literary just because “they are written in words”.

This whole argument is nothing more than a vehicle for the one point that I have: I wouldn’t have read the book I’m reading now if I knew it was classified as a YA book. The only thing that makes that classification is what? That it is easy to read? I suppose but another thing that I associate with YA is the generally poorly and almost laughable way in which things can be written. But this book is not that. It isn’t the greatest thing ever written but it is highly enjoyable. It tells a great story.

And maybe way back when The Catcher in the Rye could have been classified as a YA book. Perhaps. Who knows? Maybe, because it has different levels and has something bigger to say, it could be classified as literary fiction. But instead it is classified as a whole different genre: One of the great American Novels.

In the end your genre will define you and the audience you will or won’t reach.


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