The annoyance of ‘general fiction’

‘General fiction’ is that catch-all category of books, used by publishers, booksellers and libraries, to describe books which do not neatly fit into any other genre. It’s a term that annoys me even more than ‘literary fiction’, ‘book club fiction’ and ‘chick lit’. We don’t use it for the other branches of the arts. There’s no such thing as ‘general music’ because music has such a diversity of sounds and styles. We don’t talk about ‘general art’, ‘general films’ or ‘general drama’. Why should the majority of fiction be shoved together? The alternative, however, is further subdividing it and possibly forcing books into ill-fitting genres. I would rather use a different term for ‘general fiction’. ‘Contemporary fiction’ is an option, but it poses questions about where we draw the line between historical and contemporary, with the boundaries always shifting. Perhaps simply ‘fiction’ will do the job. For what it’s worth, I have very few books on my shelf which would be described as general fiction; most would be under classics (more on that here), children’s or YA, poetry or non-fiction. If I’m browsing in the library, I’ll go for the more sharply-defined genres first, if they have their own sections – biographies, sci-fi, thrillers, classics – before confronting the overwhelming mass of general fiction.

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