Death of genres?

John Green said something interesting. Using the National Books Awards as a frame, he theorizes that the idea of genre is becoming less and less relevant, that the internet is changing the ways we find and read books, and that the ideal definition of genre is “the same people like them.” I don’t think I would argue the first two points, but I’ll argue the third because I’ve essentially already argued against it. Shannon Hale also argued against it when she says that whether or not you like a book may not be all that important.

I don’t really want to spell it out or unpack that argument, but I will say that I think the trouble here is, to go full circle, that we’re working with different definitions. One thing I didn’t say in my big ol’ post about definitions is that the reason we define things is to clarify what we want. What John wants from a genre (books that he likes… or something) is different from what I want (a loose-ish set of rules or conventions that tell the reader what to expect and give the author a structure to base her story on… or something). Wants lead to definitions lead to actual practice and then back again to wants.

So, though I disagree with John (who is a fabulous author, btw), I’m not gonna say he’s wrong. I will say, though, that our changing wants lead to changing definitions and that we’d all be better off if we don’t try to preserve our wants and definitions long past their expiration dates. The larger definition of genre (which I think is closer to mine than John’s) will surely change and so maybe I will have some catching up to do!

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