Everyone Loves to Read, But Not Everyone Knows Their Genre
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
If you have labeled yourself as "not a reader" the real problem might be that you just haven't found your genre yet.
As a writer, reader, and editor, I think about genre a lot. There is so much to talk about! Genres are so endlessly complex, I could literally go on for days just discussing genre by itself.
Surprisingly though, a lot of people seem to forget about the importance of genre. Or maybe the issue lies in confusing genre with cliche. Trust me, these are not the same thing.
What is a Cliche?
A cliche is an element of a story or medium that has become overused to the point of losing its usefulness or meaning.
Cliches are like elements of a genre that are tired and ready to be put to rest so that new elements of the genre can flourish.
Just because something fits the genre it is a part of, that does not mean it is a cliche. Being true to a genre is very different from using cliches that no longer hold their artistic usefulness.
What is a Genre?
A genre is a category within the artistic realm. Genres exist for every art form. They describe a creative work in important ways, like describing the medium, themes, or intended audience.
The book, The Origins of Genre, put the definition of what a genre is most eloquently:
A genre, literary or otherwise, is nothing but this codification of discursive properties.
. . . genre exists as an institution that they function as, 'horizons of expectation' for readers and 'models of writing' for authors. (163)
We all have different things we like and don't like in a story. Our genre preferences influence what movies, TV shows, and books we end up liking or disliking.
For instance, I really love the romance genre. I love stories that delve into the details of relationships and human connection.
There are also subcategories or tropes within the romance genre that I do and don't personally enjoy. For example, I really like "friends to lovers" romances where two friends come to realize they love each other, and I don't personally enjoy romances where a previous spouse has died.
Don't Confuse Genre with Quality
It's important to recognize that these are personal genre preferences and have nothing to do with the quality of these individual books. A "moving on" type of romance where a spouse has died and the living partner must learn to move on and love again can be an absolute masterpiece and enjoyed by many many readers.
Many readers (and viewers) suppose that because a story isn't to their personal taste the story must be of low quality. This is far from the truth. What is actually happening is you've found a genre or subgenre that just isn't for you, and that is all.
The harm in confusing genre preferences with quality is that you get readers and viewers who feel compelled to share their hate of a certain book, TV show, or movie because they are sure they are "right" in not liking it.
There is no right or wrong to personal genre preferences. They're just preferences.
Two examples that come to mind are the TV shows Reign and Bridgerton. Both shows belong to a subgenre that takes a more open, creative, and modern approach to the aesthetic and fashion of the time periods they take place in. They take regency fashion and give it a modern twist.
Some viewers have been upset about how inaccurate this is, or how these shows don't portray the time period realistically like the TV shows Harlots or Poldark do.
These viewers are mistaken in that what they are seeing isn't an inaccuracy, it's a subgenre. The shows Harlots and Poldark also take place in similar time periods, but their stories are part of a completely different genre from Reign or Bridgerton.
Bridgerton is surrealism, a regency-inspired romance that promises viewers an eventual happy ending and warm feelings all around. Harlots is realism, a regency drama that takes viewers through the many harsh realities of this time period.
Bridgerton is not supposed to be harsh and realistic, it is supposed to be soft and surreal. Harlots is not supposed to be soft and surreal, it's supposed to be harsh and realistic.
Do you see what I mean yet?
Those that complain that Bridgerton wasn't very realistic don't realize that what they mean to say is, "this genre isn't my thing."
The Importance of Understanding Genre
Understanding genre better allows all audiences to get the content representation they deserve. Fluffy romances with no hard-hitting issues might not be for you, and that's ok! Just don't start a crusade to abolish a genre that just isn't a part of your personal genre preferences.
Genres also need each other to grow, develop, and create new genres. Take this quote from The Origins of Genres:
From where do genres come? Why, quite simply, from other genres. A new genre is always the transformation of one or several old genres: by inversion, by displacement, by combination.
There has never been a literature without genres; it is a system in continual transformation . . . (161)
Once you understand genres and subgenres, you can start figuring out what you do and don't like in all kinds of media.
Stop Looking at Reading as Academic and Get into Genres Instead
This is the primary key to learning how to love reading: don't view reading as an academic activity, instead see it for what it truly is, a personal pastime.
When you view reading as an academic activity you become prone to avoiding it in favor of mediums where you do allow yourself to consume what you want, like television. Let go of this idea and let yourself finally find the genres you love to read.
Many of us have probably already labeled ourselves as either "a reader" or "not a reader." If you label yourself as "not a reader" I challenge you to focus on finding the genre that speaks to you the most. When you read for yourself, you might find meet some really great books that you not only love but change your life.
Todorov, Tzvetan, and Richard M. Berrong. "The Origin of Genres." New Literary History 8, no. 1 (1976): 159-70. Accessed March 2, 2021. doi:10.2307/468619.