Genre is a word that gets thrown around. During schooling years it’s discussed as a way to label everything that a person is read. For Bible reading, the genre is said to be important because it indicates how a particular book of the Bible is read, yet few could explain why such a distinction matters. The reality is that genre can indeed make a difference in all of our reading (and may even help you read more books throughout the year) if we understand some key aspects.
Genre Determines Reading Style
Genre impacts how books are read. By this, I do not simply mean how we interpret and understand the author’s intentions, which is certainly true. Instead, genre determines how much time to invest in a book. Not all books should be read in the same way, with the same focus, and with the same level of investment. Therefore genre is often times one of the first indicators that can be used the level of engagement.
Consider the reading of the genres fiction, history, and Christian living. Each serves a specific purpose with intended consequences and therefore the way in which I read each is dependent upon those purposes. Fiction is generally purely for pleasure (although a well-written novel sometimes causes me to think and reflect and has the ability to teach me something about culture). History too is for pleasure, but because of the nature of what it is, I endeavor to learn from it, while of course, Christian living is meant to aid me in my spiritual walk and therefore I seek to soak in the teachings. So what does this mean? It means each one is read with a varying intensity, speed, and emphasis. A Biblical Christian living book that contains the truth of God’s Word is not a book to be devoured in one sitting, but instead may require much time to contemplate, study, and determine the application in my life. Therefore, such a book requires more time and energy and it’s not uncommon to take several weeks to get through one. A historical book, on the other hand, has little of application (usually) but provides understanding into the past and may even bring forth insights into the present as a result. Therefore, I read to learn from these to some level, but have very little to expect to apply. As a result, they are read with great interest at a medium speed in order to understand aspects and details but rarely do they last more than a few days in my ‘current reading’ list because I’m not taking notes, highlighting, or seeking to grow my walk from them. Which brings me to fiction, which is purely for pleasure which means they are read quickly, with little concern for intricate details except those constructive to the overall plot, and with almost no retention. It’s easy to ask, “Why read them if I’m not retaining anything?” The answer is simply for the pleasure of reading. I can come to the end of the day and be exhausted, but am not quite ready to go to sleep, so taking in a few chapters of a good fiction book brings me a level of pleasure and relaxation. I enjoy a well-written story, but unless there is some sort of cultural insight, there is no need to use my limited memory, energy, and time for something so insignificant. For example, I have read all of John Grisham’s books and despite some of their secular moments, I enjoy the plot twists and levity of them, but when it’s all said and done, I can’t tell you which book was about what if you name a title. Give me a couple of hints, and I can remember some overall details, but not to the degree that many of our people would remember their favorite movies and such. The reality is, knowing what genre your reading can help you determine how best to read the book.
Genre Determines Priority
Knowing genre can be helpful not only for determining how a book is read but the priority in which they are read. The first priority is always to read Scripture (something I’ll write more about next week in my pro reading tips). However, I’ve previously written that each of us should read with a purpose and a goal (you can read that article by clicking here). Therefore, that reading goal dictates what the focus of each person’s reading is and thus what books are read. My second priority in reading after Scripture is to grow in Christlikeness, therefore my greatest priority is books that encourage and edify me in this regard.
However, if I do not know the genre of a given book, then I can’t always be certain where those books may fit within my reading purposes. That means that genre can help us to determine the priority of what we read.
As a way of example, if you look at any of my reading lists over the past year you will find a large number of fiction books in comparison to Christian living. Does it mean I actually spend more time reading fiction? Absolutely not. I complete more books because it takes me less time to complete a fiction book than a Christian living. When reading a Christian book I can usually expect to read about 1-2 pages per minute depending on how involved it is. However, when reading a basic mystery that number can jump to 4+ pages per minute!
Knowing the genre that you are reading then, can have a profound impact both on what you read and how you read. As a result, whether you realize it or not, knowing the genre can actually have a profound impact on both the quality and quantity of books you read. Of course, knowing the genre serves a greater purpose when you recognize what you’re reading for and therefore I think it would be important to read the article referenced earlier in this article. Regardless, while genre serves some literary purposes, it also serves a role not often recognized.
As a side note, there is one genre missing from the discussion here that we haven’t considered, so join me next week to discuss further what categories of genres actually exist.