Used bookstores are like a box of books—you never know what you’ll get. I perhaps overindulge this particular vice, but it doesn’t feel too sinful to me. Part of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading challenge for the year is three books by one author. I decided since I’ve been on a Kurt Vonnegut kick that he would be the one. I figured (mostly wrongly) that his books would be all over the place in used bookstores. I always found a plentiful supply at the now mourned Boston Book Annex. At a used shop in Easton I asked where they might put Vonnegut. “In science fiction,” the owner promptly replied. I don’t think of Vonnegut as a science fiction author. Some of his work does fit, but this little exchange got me to thinking about genres again.
Writers, unless they’re strictly commercial, don’t think of genre. We write. The novel I’ve been trying to get published for the last decade doesn’t fit into any neat category at all, and that’s probably part of the problem. Neither fish nor fowl—what is this thing? I’ve noticed this with my brother-in-law’s books. Now, I’m holding out on retirement to dig into Neal Stephenson’s books because they require more time than I have in my workaday world, but they aren’t always science fiction. Still, that’s often where you find him in bookstores. I was in a local shop in Bethlehem the other day and there he was, in sci fi. Although I understand why booksellers (and critics) want to use genres, but it seems to me that they limit human creativity.
The past couple of non-fiction books I’ve written aren’t really in genres. They’re not academic books, but academics (once guilty, always guilty) have a hard time convincing publishers they can do anything else. Non-fiction may be a more difficult gig than fiction after all. Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible don’t comment on horror necessarily, at least not directly. They’re not religious books either. When I try to explain them in one sentence, it quickly becomes run-on. I began both the same way—I noticed something and began writing about it. With a little structuring and a little time, you’ve got an entire book. It may not find a publisher. It may not fit a genre. Nobody on Medium is going to come looking for your advice. And if you’re lucky you’ll find yourself put on a shelf with others who don’t conform to genre expectations either.