A Cry for Help

So I have this ongoing project.

I’m cataloging the books I own in a spreadsheet. I’ve listed the title, author, series, ISBN, reading status, and my rating, so now I want to add genres, because I’m curious what my percentages look like (I also intended to go through and see how many female v. male authors I have). I’m fairly certain my “urban fantasy” and my “fantasy” outweigh everything else, but I would like to know by how much.

The trouble I’m having is how to go about categorizing this. I’m likely going to go by dominant genre—eg, if this were in a bookstore, where would it be? That isn’t particularly helpful, of course, because I don’t want to categorize something as “new fiction” or so broad as “fiction” if I don’t have to. It would defeat the purpose of categorization.

Categorization is the trouble at the heart of this. I want to fit things into boxes and under labels, when some books on my shelf (and many in the world) don’t easily fit into any one category. Even defining those categories themselves is incredibly difficult. What is magical realism even supposed to be? If I use “urban fantasy” as a category, does that mean I shouldn’t use the simple “fantasy” label, but be more specific? Does “urban fantasy” strike the need for a category called “paranormal” or are they overlapping but not the same?

So this is a cry for help. Help me order my shelves (and organize my reviews here). Please?

These are the current running definitions:

World Genres

Urban fantasy: the fantastical takes place in a world very much like ours or with a connection to ours (such as the ability to move and frequent travel between our world and the fantastical)

High fantasy: set in a world completely separate from ours, often with a focus on magic

Science fiction: a world with technology significantly beyond that of the time in which it was written, or focusing upon the exploration of scientific advancement/technology and repercussions thereof

Contemporary: fiction that closely mirrors what is possible in real life (aka Realistic Fiction)

Historical fiction: set in a world that closely mirrors what is possible in real life but in a time period prior to the one in which it is written

Plot Genres

Romance: centers around the pursuit of a romantic relationship (and is advertised as such).

Mystery: centers around the resolution of puzzle (most commonly a crime)

Horror: centers around a threat (supernatural or existing) intended to inspire fear or disgust

Adventure/Action: centers around a journey (movement from place to another) of some sort, often with fighting and danger involved


Magic Realism: “a literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy” (thanks, Google!)

Classics: books that have survived through the ages, are generally forced upon high schoolers and university students, and have been applauded by modern critics for having some sort of importance regarding the time in which they were published.

I know genres are not mutually exclusive—that genres are characterized by usage of tropes and even writing styles—and that genres fluctuate as much as does a person’s mood day to day.

But seriously, what is magic realism? What counts and what doesn’t? Does The Anybodies by N.E. Bode count as magical realism or as urban fantasy?

What would you say the difference between “paranormal” and “urban fantasy” is, if there even is one? Should “thriller” be on the list, because in essence it isn’t quite mystery or horror, but the definitions cover it anyway? Do I want to bother with steampunk or should I just go for a genre that encompasses all of “alternate history” (like my recent read, Anno Dracula)? Where do retellings go? Should they have their own category or be fit into whatever genre applies otherwise?

Basically, what would make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for? I would really adore some input–any advice or comments you have would be absolutely lovely.

Sidenote: If you would like to read a really interesting article starting with genre and going on tangents from it, check out “Let’s Talk About Genre” with Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Thanks for reading!
Do you catalog your books? If so, how?
Do you even bother with genres in your reading life?
Are there ones you adore and/or ones you avoid?

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8 thoughts on “A Cry for Help

  1. I would organise them fantasy (urban and high within), contemporary (romance and not within), sci-fi (space and other planets maybe), crime, classics and then misc maybe??

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually finished my excel file on this. Haven’t got the time to publish my result. In the end, if you see my site right now, it’ll just be ‘Discworld’ – ‘Science and Fantasy’ and (perhaps when I’ve written something on it a ‘Non-Fiction’. Then the reast would just be ‘Fiction’

    I really had a hard time categorizing some books that I put it in a very special category – ‘others’! Haha the Let’s Talk About Genre article is really insightful, but in the end, book labels would really just screw you up! 😛 Good luck though! (This comment didn’t help you at all!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First off, I am now convinced I have to do this with my books.
    Second, (as you’ve already discussed) this is SO difficult because of how things overlap. When I’m looking for books, I suppose I chiefly categorize by what you’re calling world genres, as plot genres typically get grandfathered in to those (perhaps with the exception of horror, which, from what I’ve seen, is nearly always contemporary). But “world genre” would be my go-to categorization.

    I think for me, the different between urban fantasy and paranormal is the focus on the beings, if that makes sense. For instance, I would never categorize an angel or demon book as fantasy, because that seems more paranormal/supernatural to me. So I think it’s just the focus. But that’s just my impression — and I read high fantasy more than anything.

    Interesting post! I think you’ve just enhanced my neuroses surrounding my book organization. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your difference between fantasy and paranormal is really interesting. I agree with you, but it would never have occurred to me. At the same time, though, something like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, for me, isn’t really paranormal, even though it does heavily feature angels, but I can’t put a finger on why. I’m terrible sorry about enhancing neuroses!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Paranormal and urban fantasy are different in my opinion. Paranormal is the things such as vampires and werewolves, angels and demons, where as urban fantasy is like incorporating elements from high fantasy such as magic into our own modern world. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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