What Novels Eat for Breakfast

“The great thing about the novel is that it eats categories for breakfast.”

–Lev Grossman (author of The Magician King) on what is and isn’t fantasy

As a librarian, I often find myself trying to put books into neat categories.  In my office, there are three of us that cover teen fiction, and we split it into genres.  I have realistic fiction, another librarian has paranormal and science fiction, and the other has fantasy.  But what exactly is the difference between any of these genres anyway?  Where are the lines?  Is The Future of Us realistic or science fiction?  How about magical realism? What level of magic tips it to paranormal or fantasy vs. realistic fiction?  Does The Book Thief fall into historical or does Death being the narrator push it into some form of fantasy?

These are the questions that I wonder about on an almost daily basis at my job, and this morning MPR re-broadcast an interview with Grossman about his new novel and the larger world of fantasy literature that made me stop and pay attention despite the fact that I rarely read anything approaching the fantastic.  He made the statement quoted above in a larger point that the idea of what is or isn’t fantastic is almost certainly going to change–just as science fiction from decades ago doesn’t seem so futuristic now that we live in an era of pocket computers.

I must admit, it does seem like some of the best books are the ones we don’t quite know what to do with.