Is the way we categorize books out of touch? Tim Parks says in the NYRB that a careful eye can come up with a different way of grouping books that is perhaps more fruitful. This all sounds great in theory, but do I really want to enter a bookstore organized this way? I’m not really a browser anymore. I’m a more of a “Oh, Danine said to read NK Jesimin, so I’ll just go right to the SciFi section and grab all three books of the series and GTFO of this overpriced housewares store that also has books” type shopper. But I suppose everyone is free to arrange as they like at home. Or, you know, guerrilla styles in store.
Why do we categorize novels? Fantasy, Chick Lit, Crime, Romance, Literary, Gothic, Feminist… Is it the better to find what we want, on the carefully labelled shelves of our bookshops? So that the reading experience won’t, after all, be too novel.
Or is it simply for the pleasure of putting the world in order? French Literature, German Literature, American, South American, Korean. Or again, Renaissance, Eighteenth-Century, Postwar. In line with the notion of a body of knowledge—such that the more you read from one area, the more you can claim to be an expert, or at least a buff. There is even World Literature, which is not quite the catch-all it seems; rather, those novels that have appealed to many nations over the centuries, or that do so today. One chooses them to be a citizen of the world, perhaps, suggesting that behind the category is the desire to categorize oneself, the pursuit of identity.
In any event, I want to propose a different way of categorizing novels, or at least arranging the ones you have read on your shelves: something that came to me after reading Dickens and Chekhov in quick succession.