The “new adult” genre and the approaching genre singularity

October 8, 2012 § 9 Comments

Yes, I understand that genres are useful because they help booksellers know where to shelve new books and readers find books similar to those they already like. That said, do we really need so many of them?

In case you’ve missed the news, the powers that be have decided to shoe-horn yet another genre in between children’s books and “adult” books (maybe I should call them “grown up books” as “adult books” sounds like 50 Shades of Gray). “New adult” is the new genre, and in case your powers of deduction are failing you today, it describes books between young adult and old adult books, (which I will henceforth just refer to as “boring books”) and as far as I can tell is basically defined by having a protagonist of late high school or early college age.

In principle there is nothing particularly wrong with this and it might actually help me eventually sell a book as this is the range I sometimes I write in. Like I said, there really are uses for genre distinctions. But I can’t help but feel that this “new adult” genre is either a) just a way to get adult readers to feel less embarrassed about reading books described as “young adult,” or b) write more salacious and “adult” scenes in YA books while still being able to maintain that they aren’t targeted to young adults.

Why can’t we just get to a place where we agree that every book is its own and defining it by its fellows constrains it as often as not? Is the defining characteristic of a book the protagonist’s age? Do we really want to pigeon-hole books based on a single factor? Am I asking too many rhetorical questions?

All these thoughts were running through my head when I realized that the problem isn’t too many genres but too few.

Bring on the genres! New adult, young adult, old adult, in-between  adult, nearly-dead adult. Horror? No there are at least twenty genres crowding in there. Vampire, werewolf, Lovecraftian, aliens, noir. Let it all hang out. It’s not science fiction, it’s space opera, steampunk, cyberpunk, apocalyptic, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, or time travel. We’re nearing the genre singularity! The point at which we have so many genres that once again there are no genres at all, just books full of stories worth reading.

Okay. I got a little carried away. But only because I dream of an idyllic, post-singularity day where I can sit in a treehouse and read any book for any age group without pretension, while drinking a bottle of wine, .

What do you think? Do you like genre distinctions? Do we need more? Fewer? Do you feel like they help guide people to the right books or keep readers from breaking out of their established reading norms to try something new?

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§ 9 Responses to The “new adult” genre and the approaching genre singularity

  • Andi says:

    Great thoughts! I’m not going to lie- I like that the genre makers have somehow helped to justify my adult obsession with Harry Potter; however, if the one/no genre day ever comes, I will be equally as happy, likely in a treehouse with wine.

  • Kali says:

    Oh Rob…as a future librarian all I have to say is “database”. The bookstore will begin to organize books based on size (that is the best way to save space) and you then type in the genre you want perhaps: “old -adult cyberpunk with vampires” and then you retrieve the list of books and their locations–or better yet a librarian will be there to get it for you and recommend similar delightful reads.

    Good genres like subject headings do need some official titles so that we can better classify but computers means we can get pretty specific!

    • R. H. Culp says:

      The “keyword” idea has a lot of appeal. I love things like Goodreads’ tool that tells you comparable titles and am excited about the development of better tools for that, but I chafe under the idea of having to fit within a genre–whether in my reading or writing. Not sure what that says about me.

  • stoehrkr says:

    As a future librarian all I have to say is “database”.

    More genres like good subject headings just need to become official enough for folks to categorize into that database and then you can search for “old-adult cyberpunk time travel” and the computer will cross reference the categories selected for a particular work. You get the location (or ebook selection page) and “book-shelvers” can store books by size because it doesn’t matter the genre then and book size sorting can save a lot of space.

  • Jay says:

    I really think it’d be great if things got that much more detailed, but to do everyone a favor you’d really have to create the equivalent of Pandora for Books – come up with a really intricate algorithm to determine what books are actually similar and for what reasons, then make recommendations based off of that. Otherwise you fall into the same trap, for not all vampire steampunk romance operas for semi-adults were created equal.

    • avib333 says:

      I want Pandora for books! Goodreads doesn’t cut it! And honestly, I think it’s the future of bookselling. It’s true that Genre, or at least the modern conception of it is totally based on the industry’s need to sell books (e.g. why some books are categorized as romance, while other, very similar books are categorized in lit, simply because of the different marketing styles of the author/publisher). But with ebooks exploding and stuff, we need ways for people to get recommendations via something like the Netflix algorithm or the Music Genome Project. Heck, if we can subscribe or put up with ads to have the entire library of human literacy at our fingertips at all times (like Spotify, Netflix, or Pandora), I would not complain 😀

      • R. H. Culp says:

        I completely agree! That’s exactly what I was thinking as I wrote this post. The only downside is that I wouldn’t get anything done in the rest of my life because there would be so many great books to read!

  • Redhead says:

    my bookseller friends have a horrible time trying to shelve stuff. they’ve got Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance (lots of overlap there!) on the main floor of the bookstore, but science fiction is usually in the basement, so where do they put something that’s a cross between SF and UF, like all the zombie books?

    Personally, I don’t care much for genre labels, but they sure are helpful (and annoying!) for booksellers.

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