Hello! I am writing this in the Windows Notepad app, because I’m sitting in a cafe where I don’t have the internet password, and for some reason word is refusing to open, so forgive the weird formatting on this, if there is any. You may be asking, “Jocelyn, why are you writing in a cafe with no internet access and no Word when you need both Word and Internet in order to run this blog?” The answer feels very complicated when it’s inside my head, but in reality it’s super simple. I got brunch with my (former?) basketball teammate, and now I have 2 hours before their game begins so I needed to find somewhere to go to fill the time. This cafe (Flour, for you Boston people) is extremely close to MIT and has an outlet to charge my laptop, so it seemed like a good fit. What I didn’t know was that the Wi-Fi would be locked. Alas. If you want the more complicated reason, the answer is that I couldn’t bring myself to go inside of the gym when they all did to start warming up. It was simply far too painful. I have so many good memories there, but an equal number of terrible, soul crushing memories, and I didn’t feel like reliving them. Instead, I’m sitting in a cafe 0.3 miles away reliving them. Hah.

Anyways, in light of the fact that in just a couple short hours I’m going to be watching a basketball game, I decided to make a list of my favorite books about sports that I’ve read. Unfortunately, after perusing the list of books I’ve read, I realized that I’ve only ever read 4 books about sports and I didn’t particularly enjoy two of them. After that, I started scrolling the Goodreads “Sports” genre, and I was pretty amused by the book covers that I saw, so I’ve decided to have a little discussion about what I think is wrong with the Goodreads shelving system.

Ostracizing Demographics

There’s a lot of discussion among teachers and parents about why boys read less than girls do. It is common knowledge that as people get older, boys tend to drop off from reading, while more girls are likely to continue into adulthood. The sports section of Goodreads is actually a perfect example of why.

When I’m looking for a new book to read, I often head to Genre-based shelves in order to find my next read. It allows me to determine what type of book I want to read, and then find a highly rated novel that fits those categories. It’s meant to make my life easier, and honestly it does. There are days when I don’t feel like reading, and I’ll just scroll through a list of books, adding ones that seem best to my TBR. This is a great strategy for me, since my primary genres are psychological thrillers and contemporary fiction. Those shelves are always filled with popular books that many people, friends included, have already read and reviewed. The Sports section does not function the same way. At all.

A quick glace through the Sports genre will show you everything you need to know. Of the books on the list, nearly half of the covers feature half naked men that you would expect to see had you opened the Spicy Romance section of the app. Do these books have to do with sports? Yes, to an extent. From my brief browsing, the guy in the romance is typically an athlete, and the woman is unathletic and trying to get his attention. Because of that, I suppose there is enough sporty action in there to qualify it as a Sports Book. I’m sure that regular readers of romances who enjoy a good sporty romance have figured this out and often use this shelf to find their next read. I am not one of those people. I was genuinely trying to find a book about playing sports, not a romance novel. Although it was possible for me to do, the number of naked men I had to scroll past in order to find a book I wanted to read was non negligible.

Now imagine you are a boy, in high school or middle school, trying to find a book to read. You open up your browser, and half of the books on your screen are romances. Odds are, you’re going to try to close the tab before someone sees you. At the very least, it would be discouraging to someone trying to find a sports book that they would enjoy. It was discouraging for me and I was just opening the list to write a blog post.

How To Fix It

In my opinion, we should not allow romance books to be cross-genre referenced in Sports or other genres. I don’t mean to single out these two genres when I say this, either. If there is an overarching genre that is a much “stronger” theme than another genre, then the book should not be shelved under those subthemes. For example, if there is a horror novel where one of the characters happens to be Christian, and there are a couple of mentions without it being a strong part of the plot, then it should not go under “spirituality”. We should be able to tag the books or something, but having it show up in the shelf kind of defeats the purpose of shelves. I think this is especially true when the subgenre is already smaller and gets less publicity. Very few sports books (unless they’re memoirs by famous people) end up on bestseller lists, in my experience. Maybe that’s just because I’m not looking there, but from my interactions in the book community it feels like there is a much larger contingent of Romance fans than there are Sports fans.

By allowing romance novels to completely take over the Sports shelf, we are devaluing the use of genres. Nobody would read a book where the protagonist is hooking up with a hot baseball player and recommend it to someone who loves to read about Sports. If they did, the Sports fan would likely be disappointed.

Conclusion

Maybe I am being overly dramatic. I do think it is nice that Goodreads allows books to be categorized by more than one genre, because most books truly do fall under multiple genres. As a frequent user of genre lists, though, I do wish that books would only be shelved under their primary genres, as it would make it easier to find books I was genuinely interested in reading. I also believe that it would allow reluctant readers to get more invested in books, since oftentimes these people can be drawn into the book community by sharing books that fit their life interests. In an ideal world, there would be a filter system on Goodreads where you could filter out books of genres that you didn’t want to read, and then none of this would be an issue at all.

So, I want to hear from you! What do you think about books being shelved under multiple genres? Do you use Goodreads Genre Shelves or am I the only one?