If literary labeling needs to be done at all, (and, apart from broad categories like FICTION and NON-FICTION, I don't think it does) isn't it something for others to do? Like agents, publishers, reviewers, booksellers, readers?
Agents are now classified by genre and books are “genrified” by their covers, blurbs and promotion. Even some publishers are classified by genre. So, by simply choosing an agent, I’m labeling my work. And, by labeling my work I'm making an unwanted mission-statement and writing for a limited audience.
Labels are limiting and they often dumb-down for age and gender. Gender genres like “women’s fiction”, “romance” and “thriller”, can prevent readers from branching out and reading more eclectically. By the way, in the absence of the genre “Men’s Fiction”, should we assume that all good fiction is "Men's Fiction?
Literary labels are supposedly a guide for readers but aren’t they more of a marketing tool for publishers? Here’s a chat by Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro on the subject.
Everything today seems to need a label, a mission statement or a sub-title. The better to sell it. People even subtitle life itself these days by muttering "awkward" during a pause in conversation. I think this comes from TV and movies which is another "genre". Many writers write with a movie deal in mind.
Writing for a "genre" must surely discourage unique voices. We’re told “voice is everything” but if your “voice” doesn’t fit a genre will anybody hear it?
Is literature considered a genre? Is any book with big words and deep thoughts literature? Or does the sheer length of a book make it literature? THE GOLDFINCH, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, INFINITE JEST, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX?
Would these classics now have the Young Adult label:
CATCHER IN THE RYE, ROMEO AND JULIET, GREAT EXPECTATIONS? Would MADAME BOVARY be considered “romance”? Would MOBY DICK be a “suspense thriller”? GONE WITH THE WIND: “chick lit”? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: “crime”?
And how long would we tolerate the concept of GENRE if the English word TYPE/KIND/SORT were used instead? Would we want to be called TYPE WRITERS?
WRITING, GENRES, SUBTITLES, LABELS, LITERATURE, FICTION