Is ‘classics’ a genre?

Working in a book shop isn’t always that easy as one might think – actually, it’s pretty nerve-wracking not only because of the nightmare that is retail but also because of genres or the question “where to put book/author/series xy?”

So, most book shops are sorted by genres and subgenres. Fiction, non-fiction, children’s book, YA, crime, fantasy, scifi and so on. The more of these genres you have, the more problems you face. Take Harry Potter for example, THE “All-Age” series of the last decades. Well, it’s a children’s book, of course, right? Well, not so fast:

The story in a nutshell is this: The main protagonist starts of as a 11-year-old boy, eventually growing to his late teenage years while not only battling an evil wizard but also all of the typical issues of becoming an adult.

So, we have a child (children’s book), who battles an evil wizard (fantasy) and typical issues of becoming an adult (YA). And that’s just the tagline. I wouldn’t sell a 11-year-old Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, let alone the last three books. I’m not even sure about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And telling a teenager or an adult to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Well, maybe, but it wouldn’t be my first idea.

So, genres are a necessary evil because we HAVE to sort all these books some way and having Twilight and The Three Musketeers on the same shelf would be outrageous. But what about books like The Three Musketeers or Orwell’s 1984? Both are so called ‘classics’. Books decades or centuries old and still deemed not just as good but as ‘must reads’. The former, though, is clearly fiction, an adventure novel with historical background, the latter set in a dystopian ‘future’ and therefore part of the science-fiction genre. Then again, from our – and not the author’s perspective – 1984 takes place in an alternative past or a just slightly worse present. But does this change it’s genre? And should we put those ‘classic’ under one genre to be separated from the rest?

‘No’ and ‘maybe’ would be my answers. It doesn’t hurt to gather some of the classics in one place, particularly for pupils and students, as those classics are most likely read in school anyway. But you shouldn’t forget where the books really come from. A science-fiction department without the ‘classics’ like 1984, Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World does seem a bit empty in my opinion. The more so if you’re considering what modern dystopian literature would be like without them. I’m looking at you, Hunger Games, Divergent and Bone Season.

So, all these books (1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451) can now be found not only with the other ‘classics’ but in (my) sci-fi department as well. Not to confuse my coworkers or the customers but actually to help them both.


10 thoughts on “Is ‘classics’ a genre?

  1. I think genre as a concept is generally more malleable/amorphous then we might want to imagine… But conventions change despite “continuity in genre” — if such a thing even exists.

    1. guess you’re right – genres DO change or at least or perception of them. nevertheless, the problems won’t go away… so – is there a solution to all this?^^ or will all ‘good books’ eventually be ‘classics’ and this ‘genre’ just keeps on growing?

      1. which is my problem – sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough 😉

        I just know of too many bookshops having those “classic” department as if it WAS a genre in itself. So – have all the books in that section AND in there “real” department or just one of the two and get rid of the classic section? Which real DOES help students etc. … I’m not sure what I would do if was the one to decide…

      2. well, the books are in both sections because I took them from the classics section. Some of my coworkers approved, some started arguing – hence the post. The latter “argued” those were classics, period. And not SF, no matter my argumentation

      3. Ah, this is a different issue. People who don’t think SF has merit often (you’ll see it all the time) try to claim that they are not works of SF simply because critics have decided to laud their literary qualities which is some SF could not possibly ever have 😉

      4. yeah, maybe THAT’s the real issue…. other not giving SF (and fantasy) enough credit…. and then there’s me loving both genres to pieces and really putting all my heart in them…well, I’m young, maybe I get used to those “nonbelievers” 😉 Or I can convert them 😉

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