A Reader’s Guide To The Different Book Genres
Genres are ways of categorizing books to make them more easily found by readers. Categorizing book genres is a necessity with any large collection. Whether it be at a library or bookstore, readers need to know where to find a book, and also find similar types of books they might enjoy. But categorizing books also comes with its headaches. Some authors write across multiple genres, or a single book can be considered multiple genres. And some people have pet peeves about categories and/or category names. Be that as it may, book genres are still the most practical and efficient way to tag books for readers.
What does genre mean to me?
I used multiple methods for choosing and defining fiction and nonfiction genres and sub-genres. In addition to my 11 years of experience as a book buyer, I looked at the websites of a couple large bookstores, a few publisher websites, and the library of congress categories. The following book genres are an amalgamation of these sources.
Side notes: These categories apply to all age groups, thus, young adult, middle grade, etc. are not included as separate genres. Young adult books exist for every single one of these book genres, for example. Similarly, I don’t include graphic novels, because there can be graphic novels in any category. Graphics are a way of presenting a genre vs a separate genre.
Fiction Book Genres
Books that describe imaginary events and people, or tell a story about real people and events using imaginary details.
A book or author that’s stood the test of time and has continued to inspire meaningful discussion and thought across generations. As gruesome as it sounds, I argue that the author needs to be dead for a book of theirs to be considered a classic. For example, Toni Morrison continues to write and to be an active member of the literary community. While I have no doubt her books will be classics, for now, they’re literary fiction.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Books deemed as having artistic qualities. Often subtle in theme and contain some kind of social/political/personal commentary on what it means to be human. Can contain other genre elements, but the author uses those elements not to be parts of that community, but to highlight an important theme in their work.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
- Magical Realism: Surreal elements set in an otherwise realistic setting (without a magic system explanation) used artistically to make a point about reality.
- The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
These books offer fun, engaging stories in a contemporary setting. They’re more approachable than Literary Fiction, and contain none of the genre elements in other categories.
32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter
- Chick Lit: A lighthearted story centered around the personal growth of a female protagonist, usually including a romance and a happy ending.
- My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
Books that take place at least 30 years before the time the author writes them. Subcategories are often broken up by time frames.
Circe by Madeleine Miller
A book where the primary plot involves falling in love (of the romantic variety) and has a happy or emotionally satisfying ending. Because this is a category with many sub-genres, the examples listed are by sub-genre.
- Contemporary Romance: Takes place in the author’s contemporary time period.
- A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
- Historical Romance: Takes place at least 30 years in the author’s past.
- Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
- Paranormal Romance: Contains fantasy elements.
- Dark Lover by J.R. Ward
- Erotica: Plot revolves around sex.
- Best Women’s Erotica of the Year edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
- Romance Series: Large series of numbered romances by multiple authors that can be read in any order.
- Harlequin Romance
Novels where the plot revolves around solving why something has happened or will happen.
- Detective/Private Investigator: Classic mystery novels where the protagonist is either asked to or volunteers to solve a crime or series of crimes.
- Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
- Cozy Mystery: A low stakes mystery set in a small town.
- Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chen
- Police Procedural: A police detective following the law to solve a high stakes crime. Typically graphic in its descriptions of violence.
- In the Woods by Tana French
- Psychological Thriller: Features a high stakes plot that elicits anxiety where the goal is often to prevent a crime versus solve a crime.
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
- Noir: A stylized mystery with a cynical protagonist.
- Queenpin by Meghan Abbott
High-stake novels with frequent scene changes, where the protagonist is constantly being put at risk.
- Adventure: Features far flung locales and exploration.
- Military/Espionage: A soldier or spy as the protagonist, with plots involving the government, politics, and/or military operations.
- Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht
- Western: Set in the United States Frontier West.
- Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Novels set in either a completely fictional world, or set in a version of this world that includes magic.
- Epic/High Fantasy: Set in created worlds.
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
- Low Fantasy: Set in our world, but with magic.
- The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
- Urban Fantasy: A type of Low Fantasy usually set specifically in a city that typically follows a jaded protagonist either in law enforcement or a vigilante as they encounter magical creatures.
- Trail of Lightening by Rebecca Roanhorse
- Historical Fantasy: A setting that takes place in this world, at least 30 years before the writing of the novel, with magic.
- Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
- Grimdark Fantasy: High Fantasy that is violent and often dystopian.
- The Poppy Wars by R.F. Kuang
Books that imagine a current possibility’s impact in the future. This category has more subcategories than any other. I chose 5 commonly used ones to illustrate its many facets.
- Hard SF: Includes detailed descriptions of factually possible science in a provable scientific field (as opposed to the social sciences).
- Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
- Soft SF: Characterized by its focus on social sciences, such as anthropology, sociology, and folklore.
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Space Opera: Books set in a fictionalized space.
- Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
- Dystopian: Set in an undesirable social and/or political environment worse than the present.
- Rosewater by Tade Thompson
- Steampunk: A historical setting where steam-powered technology plays an important part in the narrative.
- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
A novel where supernatural elements create fear and terror, both within the novel and for the reader.
- Monster/Creature Horror: Defined by the creature and/or monster used to elicit fear, i.e. ghost, werewolf, zombies, vampire, etc.
- My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
- Psychological Horror: Utilizes the mental and emotional states of the characters to frighten readers.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
- Splatter Horror: Utilizes gore and graphic violence to create a sense of horror.
- The Cipher by Kathe Koja
Nonfiction Book Genres
Books that utilize factual information about a topic to the best of the author’s ability.
Books which examine past true events. These can be broad surveys of a specific country, region, and/or time period, or they can focus on a specific event or set of events. They’re often heavily researched and can utilize academic language or be highly narrative.
The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss
- Prehistory: Creates a history of pre-literate or early literate societies using archaeological evidence
- The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox
- Military History: Relates the history of a war, battle, or some aspect of the military.
- Blood in the Water by Joan Mellen
Relates the story of a person’s life.
Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings
- Autobiography: When a writer relates their entire life story.
- Pretty-Shield as related to Frank Bird Linderman
- Memoir: Often written like a narrative, focuses on a specific aspect or theme of a writer’s life, as told by the author.
- The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
- Collections: A themed collection of short biographies.
- She-Wolves by Helen Castor
- Letters: A collection of correspondence from an individual, or between multiple people.
- The Delicacy and Strength of Lace by Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright
- Diaries: The diary entries of a person or persons.
- The Diary of Lady Murasaki by Murasaki Shikibu
Books where the information is primarily concerned with the aesthetic vs the factual.
- Poetry: Writing where the author pays particular attention to rhythm and style, often in verse
- Theater: Plays, books about theater, production of plays, musical theater, etc.
- A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
- Art: Books that collect visual art, describe how to create visual art, and/or give the history of visual art.
- Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art by Susan Aberth
- Music: Songbooks, music history, music theory, composition, etc.
- Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock N Roll by Kandia Crazy Horse
Books meant to illicit laughter.
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson
- Comic Strips: Short, pictorial humor
- Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
Books which examine a specific religion, the history of religions, and/or the practice of worshiping a deity/deities. Includes holy books.
The History of God by Karen Armstrong
- Mythology: Ancient stories of religions that are no longer actively practiced.
Collections and studies of fairytales, legends, storytelling, and folklore.
From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner
Study of the nature of knowledge, existence, and being from an academic perspective.
The Psychic Life of Power by Judith Butler
New Age & Alternative Beliefs
Books that examine nontraditional spirituality or non-mainstream belief practices.
- New Age: Books which combine a non-specific spirituality with self-help.
- A Return to Love by Marrianne Williamson
- Psychics and psychic powers: Books which examine the power of using the mind to manipulate surroundings.
- Extraordinary Psychic by Debra Lynne Katz
- Astrology: Books which utilize celestial bodies to determine human events and personalities.
- The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need by Joanna Martine Woolfolk
- Fortune Telling: Books that teach ways to predict the future.
- A Little Bit of Palmistry: An Introduction to Palm Reading
by Cassandra Eason
- A Little Bit of Palmistry: An Introduction to Palm Reading
Health & Wellness
Books that describe ways of staying healthy: how to prevent or fight a specific medical issues; nutritional ideas; alternative medicine; nursing textbooks; sex, etc.
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup
Books which explain physical or natural science concepts, including mathematics, technology, chemistry, biology, physics, engineering and more.
Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled On by Hawking Became Loved by Marcia Bartusiak
Books that analyze societies and social relationships.
- Anthropology: The study of humans and human behaviors within a social context, both in the past and in the present.
- Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict
- Sociology: The analysis of social relationships and social systems.
- So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Political Science: Books that examine systems of government and current political issues.
- For Colored Girls Who have Considered Politics by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, Minyon Moore, Veronica Chambers
- Law: Books that examine the system of rules a community or society recognizes as regulating their actions, from academic case studies to how the judicial system works.
Books that examine mental and emotional functions and well-being.
- Self-help: Gives techniques for self improvement.
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
- Childcare: Discusses parenting and taking care of children.
- All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior
- Recovery: Covers addictions, including narcotic abuse, alcohol abuse, codependency, etc.
Books that look at the education system, including teaching how-to guides, curriculum guides, lesson plan collections, homeschool guides, special education, and test prep.
Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks
Books which provide basic, objective information, like dictionaries, encyclopedias, and books of quotations.
Encyclopedia of Feminist Literary Theory by Elizabeth Kowaleski Wallace
Business & Economics
Books about managing and creating businesses, job skills and career advice, personal and business finance, investing, and how money works.
Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business by Joy Deangdeelert Cho andMeg Mateo Ilasco
Books about the ways communication occurs, communicating in other languages, the best ways to communicate, and the technical aspects of types of communication.
- TV/Cinema: Includes the technical aspects of creating film as well as analyses of TV shows and movies.
- Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea
- Composition/Rhetoric: Books about written communication in all its forms, from creative writing advice to composition textbooks to Harbrace Handbooks.
- Foreign Language: How to communicate in a different language.
Home & Garden
Books about designing, organizing, taking care of, decorating, and otherwise loving homes and gardens.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Animal & Pet Care
Books about taking care of and loving animals.
The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens: Simple Steps for Healthy, Happy Hens by Kathy Shea Mormino
Recreation & Leisure
Books about activities and hobbies done or consumed primarily for enjoyment.
- Crafts: Includes quilting, scrapbooking, basket weaving, etc. Different from art in that crafts typically hold a practical purpose in addition to a creative one.
- Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cats by Kaori Tsutaya and Amy Hirschman
- Sports: Books about competitive sports. Includes instruction and coaching.
- Fashion: Books about clothing.
- Dress Like a Woman: Working Women and What They Wore by Vanessa Friedman and Roxane Gay
Collections of recipes and the history of food.
I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook by Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad
- Cooking memoirs: Personal cooking stories that also often include recipes.
- Food Was Her Country: The Memoir of a Queer Daughter by Marusya Bociurkiw
Books that tell the story of a specific crime or criminal, collect stories of various criminals, or tell of a historical crime.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
And hey, book genres can be funny too.