Book genres are a complicated matter because there isn’t total agreement on where some books fit into certain genres. Within each genre, there can be several sub genres. Moreover, some books may fit in several genres at once — a science fiction book with lots of action may be a sci fi book, a thriller or an action novel. It is perhaps best to start with the two main categories of books, which are fiction and non-fiction.
Within non-fiction there are numerous book genres. Some non-fiction books are “how to” books that might teach a person how to cook, garden, or repair things around the home. A few other book genres that are common in the non-fiction category include travelogues, autobiographies, biographies and histories. There are also self-help books and many types that might be considered reference material, like encyclopedias. Books of personal essays, which may or may not be autobiographical, may fit into the non-fiction genre too.
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Fiction book genres are numerous and some books fall into subgenres. Main fiction categories include romances, westerns, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, horror, and historical fiction. It can be easy to see why books might fall into different categories at the same time. Gone with the Wind is historical fiction certainly, but it’s also a romance that contains some potent action scenes. However, coming up with a basic definition of each genre, as follows, can be helpful in determining where a book is most likely to fit:
- Romances tend to be stories that principally focus on love and relationships, and may take as a subject a single love relationship, or an individual looking for love.
- Westerns can be a branch of historical fiction but may more loosely deal with life in the wild American west, as it was settled.
- Mysteries often have characters that investigate crimes or various puzzles.
- Science fiction tends to use some scientific data as basis for stories, and might focus on things like apocalypse scenarios, future worlds, or space travel, to name just a few.
- Fantasy may deal with various “unreal” or magical things, or things not possible in the real world, and may contain alternate worlds and/or mythical and made up creatures or peoples.
- Thrillers are sometimes called spy thrillers and might have themes in which spies are involved in investigating various events, often on a global scale.
- Horror may rely on elements like the supernatural, apocalyptic events, or in some cases exceptionally graphic cases of murder or mutilation caused by humans or other sources.
- Historical fiction invents characters or deeds for a specific time period and may tell the story of that time period through fictional and non-fictional but fictionalized characters. A variation of this is the period novel, written either during or after a certain time period and particularly emphasizing what it was like to live in that era, with perhaps fictional characters as examples.
The book genres above are not exclusive to long fictional novels. The novel is only one thing that may be bound and read. Poetry, plays, collections of short stories, and even books of mixed media like comic books or graphic novels each belong to their own genre but also may take on the major themes of different fiction categories.
Some people may long for the simplification of genres, as writers and teachers like Aristotle classified them in earlier times. He described two basic types of plays: comedy or tragedy. Others thrill to the various ways in which people can be inventive through book genres. The proliferation of different book categories means there is always something to read that is likely to appeal to someone.