When someone refers to a book’s “genre,” we usually jump to the usual keywords: comedy, drama, fantasy, and so on. But these categories barely scratch the surface of what’s out there for us to enjoy—and to write within!
Just like film, theatre, and other art forms, literature is constantly diversifying as people seek new ways of defining their interests and perspectives. Sometimes these new genres burn hot and then fade into obscurity; sometimes they survive and evolve into something new; sometimes they vanish, only to reappear later in a kitschy, nostalgic way (maybe you’ve heard of vampire romances).
The internet has made it easier than ever to create unique categories for books, as authors and readers alike can find each other and fill internet forums with ideas and encouragement. As a result, there is a seemingly endless list of genres and subgenres that toy with the boundaries of bizarreness. There’s no telling if they’ll stand the test of time, but they’re interesting to consider if only because they reflect something about our culture and tastes. We bring you what we believe to be five of the most interesting.
The “New Weird” genre began in the 1990s, and describes books that blend horror and fantasy elements with real-world settings. Essentially, this is a genre that breaks down the boundaries of reality in a discomforting way (you’ve been watching Stranger Things, we assume). Books in this genre dip into the darker sides of fantasy, as well as the dizzying world of existential horror (the stories of H. P. Lovecraft are an inspiring influence). New Weird has some crossover with the genre of Bizarro Fiction, but as Randy Henderson explains in Fantasy Magazine, whereas Bizarro Fiction is more lowbrow in its depiction of weirdness (in other words, it contains extra weirdness), New Weird takes on a highbrow slant, with just a “side of weirdness.” Notable authors in the New Weird genre include K.J. Bishop and Jeff VanderMeer.
If you spend as much time on Netflix as we secretly do, you might have noticed a plethora of dark TV series about crimes that take place in small towns in Nordic countries (see: Trapped and Shetland). Well, the same genre occurs in books, and it’s known as “Nordic Noir.” Nordic Noir involves police procedurals and crime thrillers set against the backdrop of brooding Scandinavian countrysides. These books are told mostly from the police/detective’s point of view, and morality often gets foggy as the narrative develops. Authors in this genre include Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Jens Lapidus.
Cli-Fi is an ultra-contemporary sub-genre of science fiction. Short for “Climate Fiction,” books in this genre usually take place in the present day or near future. As a branch of Eco-Fiction, Cli-Fi novels and short stories examine the disastrous effects of climate change. What’s most compelling (and upsetting) about this genre is that it doesn’t necessarily qualify as “speculative fiction”; it deals with ongoing, real-world environmental concerns. Margaret Atwood (the MaddAddam trilogy) and Clara Hume (Back to the Garden) are authors who’ve written Cli-Fi books.
As a cashier, you see a lot of personalities and private human dramas taking place every day. A small group of cashiers have turned their experiences into “Cashier Memoirs.” This genre seems to be mostly popular in Europe, with authors such as Anna Sam and Carmela Narcisi writing about their experiences as cashiers in France and Germany, respectively. They offer a fascinating and personal study of human behaviour, gathered through routine interactions with strangers and regulars alike. This genre is worth checking out if you’re interested in sociology and the lives of everyday people.
Twitter seems to be a writer’s favourite platform, given its inspiring (and sometimes vexing) word limit (now increased to a generous 280 characters). A person’s life is reduced to sporadic thoughts and condensed brilliance, all spread across an unassuming feed. Using this format, some writers have written short stories—and even novels—using Twitter. There’s actually a #TwitterFictionfestival, which Margaret Atwood took part in in 2015. Sometimes the goal is to contain an entire story within a single Tweet (see a list of examples here), while in other cases, a longer story is told over consecutive Tweets (as in Brandon Mendelson’s The Falcon Can Hear the Falconer). Twitter Fiction is an interesting example of how technology can impact the way we define our literature.
And if Twitter can be considered literature, then it’s likely that memes, too, are an emerging literary genre. They play with language and imagery to create a group catharsis, not too unlike the Greek tragedies of yore.
We’ll leave you to contemplate that barrel of worms.