Genres…and More

So many choices, where to begin? For years, newspapers have been dividing bestsellers into Fiction and Non-fiction. Yet if one digs deeper into these two genres, a stream of sub-genres emerges.


Fantasy explores alternate worlds, timelines, and universes, often taking individuals from reality into an entirely imagined realm. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings may have paved the way for today’s plethora of paranormal books.

Magical Realism blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality, and is characterized by an equal acceptance of the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Historical Fiction uses real events and/or places in history with characters or themes that did not actually appear in a historical setting.

Horror stories evoke feelings of terror, while enthralling the reader . . . think Stephen King and Shirley Jackson.

Humor elicits laughter and amusement, although such writings often deal with serious subjects. Dave Barry, Bill Bryson, and David Sedaris are masters of this genre.

Mystery introduces drama, guesswork, and at least one criminal act, often drawing the reader into the solution of the case. Elmore Leonard, Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, and Sara Paretsky deliver.

Cozy Mysteries, also called “cozies,” are a subgenre of crime fiction in which violence is downplayed and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.

Mid-Grade (for 9–12 year-old readers) and Young Adult (for teenagers) are popular and very distinct. What appeals to a fourth-grader is different from what a ninth-grader might want to read—the ages of protagonists, dialogues, and degrees of maturity varying widely. And if romance is involved, a MG novel might involve a “crush,” whereas a YA novel could involve true love, such as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Science Fiction is speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic settings, science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster-than-light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. Prominent authors of this genre include: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Short Stories have little room for subplots or deep character development, yet they captivate readers. Collections featuring John Updike, Ring Lardner, Tennessee Williams, Stuart Dybek, and dozens of others are piled up on my nightstand,

Other sub-genres of Fiction that have been resurrected or have become newly-popular are gothic novels, romance, western, chick-lit, noir fiction, crime/fantasy, psychological novels, Roman a Clef.


Autobiography and Biography: Some favorites of mine include The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Essays demonstrate unique views on a subject. Augusten Burroughs’s Possible Side Effects, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance and Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience are examples of this sub-genre.

Inspirational stories: Mitch Albom seems to dominate this category on Goodreads, starting with his ever-popular Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

Non-fiction novels, such as In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, detail the specifics of an event or specific era/period of time.

Other Non-fiction sub-genres are self-help books, travel and photographic journals, diaries, letters, memoirs, and creative non-fiction, which is factually-written with attention to literary style. (I’m sure many readers recall A Million Little Pieces, which was sold as a memoir, but was later marketed as semi-fictional).

Speaking of a million, I’ll stop for now, as I have a lot of reading to do. The question is what genre to choose first?

~Francine Pappadis Friedman

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