Categorizing books, or not

Like most readers, I lament the fact that book stores have to categorize literature. (I was especially morose when I found The Eraserheads’ Fruitcake under the Cooking section of a local bookstore.) I recognize and accept that it’s just a way of keeping things organized and is, to a point, for the benefit of the book store patrons. But can you imagine the different kind of discovery helped along by just going through a stack of unlabeled books? (There was a time when residents of Berkeley didn’t have to.)

My grief, however, is rooted upon the truth that because of these categories, the chances of finding a book you didn’t know you were looking for is kind of null, even though some books can easily cross over to other genres. For example, I could easily (and just might) review The Hitchhiker Trilogy of Five or Little Green Men as YA, even though the characters are much, much older. And sometimes I’m seriously tempted to reshelf Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband to literary fiction or romance just to see what happens.

Which is why I found it so hard to decide how to go about the categories for my book reviews. It already pains me that I have to label this blog as a YA book blog. I had to think of a way to go about classifying things where I didn’t have to go with the hard-to-pin-down genre, or even-harder-to-justify age recommendation. I wanted something close to an objective way of labeling books, such as age ranges of the lead character/s, but some books or book series naturally have characters growing older over the course of the narrative, so that would be hard to do.

This puzzle kept me up at night for about a week, until I finally decided that the best way to go would be to classify books according to how many lead characters are involved in a book. Quantitatively, that’s pretty easy: it’s just one, two, or more than two. The challenge was in determining when to consider a character a lead.

A lot of times, and so far with the books I’ve handled, it’s pretty easy. One look at the title, and I’d know. Names or specific character references included in the title would be a good clue. I, Coriander is obviously a book with a single character lead, much like Eleanor & Park obviously has two, and The Diviners probably has more.

When it’s not that cut and dry though, the point-of-view used can provide great insight. For example, even though it was a love story (and therefore involves two people), Why We Broke Up‘s only lead is Min, as we follow only her and her thoughts throughout the book. Code Name Verity doesn’t sound like it, but the book actually has two leads, with Verity narrating half of the book, and Maddie narrating the other.

I know, I know, that doesn’t really say much else about the books under each category. But I think, deep down, as readers, we have a general sense of what kinds of stories would have two lead characters or what situations would require an ensemble cast. Stories with solo leads are pretty hard to pin down because of the endless possibilities, but otherwise, our previous reading experiences would inform us about what kinds of books to expect under each of my admittedly weird, possibly useless categories. I think.

Anyway, I’ll try this out until it has failed me. Or until someone slaps me in the comments with a better idea.

Ooh, Code Name Verity! I should get to a review of that soon.


About ergoe

Reader. Writer.

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