When fiction is marketed, I often see them listed by genre, for e.g.: "fantasy", "science fiction", "mystery", "poetry", etc. Most bookstores and Web sites use essentially the same categories to classify their books and use a similar system for sorting movies.

Has anyone developed a comprehensive, alternative taxonomy to the common genre that brings a fresh perspective on how to quickly describe and sort a book? Is there another method used in other cultures in the world?

  • 4
    "Awesome," "Doesn't Suck," "Sucks," "Twilight-level Suckiness," "Fifty Shades of Gray-level Suckiness." Jul 9, 2013 at 13:31
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    Please rate this novel for philosophical wackiness on a scale from 1 to Atlas Shrugged.
    – One Monkey
    Jul 9, 2013 at 16:05
  • @OneMonkey That's the old system. The new scale is Hitchhiker's Guide to Atlas Shrugged. Jul 9, 2013 at 19:35
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    The Irony is that some volumes score Catch 22 no matter which version of the scale you use.
    – One Monkey
    Jul 10, 2013 at 10:04

2 Answers 2


Sure. Publishers routinely classify books by "frontlist" versus "backlist", that is, new books by well-known others that are expected to sell well for at least a short period of time, versus older books and books by unknown others that may sell but at a slower pace.

Books are routinely classified by the target age group.

Books are classified by when they were written: recent, 20th century, colonial era, middle ages, ancient.

In a totally different sense, books are routinely classified by their binding: paperback versus hardcover, or the method of binding, like perfect binding (glue) versus stiched versus wire, etc.

Bookstores routinely separate out oversized books.

Etc etc.

There are all sorts of classification schemes. No classification scheme is inherently right or wrong or even good or bad of itself; it is useful or not useful for a particular purpose.

If your goal is to judge the ideological impact of books, it might make good sense to classify them as liberal versus conservative or atheist versus Christian versus Hindu. If your goal is to allocate space to store books in a warehouse, you probably want to classify them by size and weight and you couldn't care less about the words themselves.

For purposes of selling, its common to classify books by genre because people DO routinely say, "I'd like to read a mystery story today" or "I'm looking for a romance." People rarely say, "I want a book by a left-handed author with blonde hair", so we don't normally classify books that way.


Unfortunately I think what you're looking for is too subjective to be of mass applicability.

You suggest that books could be classified according to the "underlying purpose, moral, or message." That's ridiculously vague and wide open to interpretation.

Every reader is going to have a different sense of what a novel's moral or message might be. The author has one moral in mind, and most of the readers will see another. A message which was clear and unambiguously positive in 1850 will be anything from quaint to abhorrent in 2013. A book with an evangelical Christian message will be uplifting to one audience and revolting to another. Someone from Texas will read it differently than someone from Turkey. If any given person reads a book at age 14, that same exact person isn't necessarily going to see the book the same way at 34. And so on.

You might try looking up specialized reviewers or bloggers depending on what your own niche is (feminist leanings, Christianity, no animals were harmed), but trying to classify books according to what they mean is something best left to a Philosophy class.

  • As an evangelical Christian (who is quite accustomed to being told that his opinions are abhorrent, BTW), it occurs to me that I occasionally see reviews of books or movies from a Christian perspective, i.e. to what extent does this book uphold or attack Christian morals or ideas. I've seen similar reviews from a feminist perspective and various political perspectives. I think that's good and valid: I'm not likely to be interested in reading a novel that gratuitously attacks my beliefs. Of course I do read non-fiction that at least purports to make reasoned attacks on my beliefs ...
    – Jay
    Jul 10, 2013 at 18:38
  • ... because if their argument is convincing, then hey, I'd like to know that, maybe I should change my opinions. And if not, it's always good to know what the opposition is saying.
    – Jay
    Jul 10, 2013 at 18:39
  • @Jay If "to what extent does this book uphold or attack Christian morals or ideas" is a priority for you, then yes, that's a completely valid classification (which is why I mentioned it -- and please note I did not attach "abhorrent" to "Christian"). My point is simply that it's a niche system which will not be useful for or appealing to people who aren't Christian. The OP wants something as wide-ranging as "genre," but based on philosophy, and I just think philosophy and morality are too personal and too subjective to be applied universally. Jul 10, 2013 at 18:51
  • Oh, I absolutely agree. That's what I was trying to say.
    – Jay
    Jul 11, 2013 at 13:05

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