Looking Again at Genre (A Rebuttal to Root Beer)

Early on in this blog’s life, I wrote a post about how genre is like root beer. Long story short, it seems like every story has some element that stuffs it into a genre, no matter what else is included in the story. (For example, if there’s aliens, no matter how small a part, it’s science fiction.)

I’m starting to rethink this a bit.

I’m currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. (Yes, I know I’m a few years behind on this. It’s what I do.) If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is an extremely long, very well researched story, essentially about Dracula and what he’s doing in the modern (if by modern, you mean the 1970s, and I do) day. It’s told mostly from the viewpoint of a teenager, though there are stories within stories – her father’s, and her father’s advisor.

It has vampires. Should it should be fantasy, right? Or at least paranormal, according to the root beer theory.

But I don’t think it is – and neither, apparently, do the people who have reviewed it on Amazon. The top tags for the book are: historical fiction, vampire, mystery. (Both “adventure” and “literature” show up before either fantasy or paranormal do.)

Between examples like this, which could, I suppose, be called “literary fantasy” or “fantastic literature,” if I felt like making up subgenres, and the work I did on the Subgenre Studies last year, I’m beginning to change my opinion. Maybe there doesn’t have to be a root beer in a story. Maybe the author’s intent, and the themes and style of the story, are what determine genre, and not what’s in it.

What do you think, Squiders?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Genre can be very subjective. Your example of “The Historian,” which bridges literary fiction with fantasy, is a great example. Another one is Octavia Butler’s “Kindred,” which uses time travel as a framing device to explore the topic of slavery in America. It’s technically sci-fi, but also could be considered historical fiction. I think that a mashup of genres is one of the reasons why sites like Goodreads are awesome, as you can see all of the genres/subgenres and not have to worry about what shelf to look for it on in your bookstore/library.

    Reply

  2. I just wish they’d bring back New Coke. That stuff was awesome!

    (And addictive. Which is why I want them to bring it back. Need them to!)

    Reply

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