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« Book Meme-ing | Main | Bizarre Animation »

October 04, 2006

Fun Quote of the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

This passage from a Rod Lott posting at Bookgasm had me cheering:

There seems to be this unspoken rule in America that unless a book is either: a) literary, b) covered by The New York Times Book Review, or c) Oprah-approved, that it shouldn't be talked about, let alone read at all. In other words, genre fiction.

It's weird, because our society has no problem talking to one another in public about genre movies or genre TV shows. But genre books? No one wants to admit they're reading it, for fear of being looked down upon. Unlike films or television, a book requires a degree of intellect to be experienced; therefore, they reason, books must be intellectual.


So there is sanity to be found among those who discuss books, even if not among the official bookchat class ...



posted by Michael at October 4, 2006


Who cares about the official bookchat class except for them? I mean, they aren't able to stop all these other books from being published. If they actually stopped the potboilers and bodice-rippers and "...For Idiots" books from being available, because they were a gatekeeper, then I guess we'd all have to care (like a congressional committee which doesn't let a bill come to the floor for a vote). But as it is, all this other stuff is out the only ones who pretend it doesn't matter are the ones pretending it doesn't matter...and who the hell are they? My guess is, first and foremost, boring, ugly and pretentious...I mean, when he says, "people don't talk about reading genre fiction"---who is he referring to? I know people who talk about it. It wouldn't occur to them not to.

Posted by: annette on October 4, 2006 4:00 PM

Rod Lott overstates the case on many levels. For example, in the beginning, the literary establishment and others actively and publically disdained the Oprah book club, until the power of the mighty O overwhelmed all opponents. Oprah was oddly helped by her public bitch-slapping of that writer who was exposed for making up his facts. Still there are many "serious" writers who believe that if Oprah -- or a larger public outside the literary fringe -- embraces their work, then they have not done a sufficient job to be intellectual, insular and elitist.

The New York Times regularly devotes space to mystery novels, science fiction and other genre fiction. As far as I can tell, they still give short shrift to Westerns and to a lot of regional fiction. They seem to be embarrassed to devote a lot of coverage to romance novels, although the Times will deal with the publishing industry side of romance fiction.

I don't know whether even the Bookgasm folks cover fanfiction or Internet literature, so maybe Lott doth protest too much.

Still, one thing about genre fiction that even its strongest proponents must admit to: many readers of this stuff just want to "enjoy" it and don't care much about serious discussion, or actively fight against overly intellectual or overly-analytical digressions. Since semi-coherent gushings of "I like it" and "I liked it, too!" don't make for interesting reading over the long haul, I don't know that there is much point in complaining about the lack of coverage in publications that are looking for something more judicious.

By the way, a former co-worker belonged to the Romance of the Month club and greatly enjoyed this type of genre fiction. And yet she rejected any book that did not hew closely to the standard romance novel formula, and would feel personally betrayed if an author tried to introduce something new into the formula or even ceased writing romances for some other kind of fiction. Ironically, I know some guys who rent a lot of porn (another kind of genre fiction), who behave exactly the same way. They insist on seeing the same kind of performers do exactly the same thing with exactly the same payoff.

For some, science fiction has degenerated into fantasy novels (magic and flying dragons in Renaissance Faire settings) or overparticularized market segments (Star Trek novelizations vs Star Wars novelizations). Again, for many fans, rigid adherence to formula is a requirement. This is also similar to the sentiment expressed at a romance novel site that I once stumbled upon that had a long, but nearly unanimous thread on why romance novels should never, never, never, ever have explicit sex scenes.

Of course, there is now a sub-genre of very steamy romance novels, etc. And there are romance, sci fi and mystery conventions with healthy attendance, newsletters, web sites, etc. Book stores have found that it helps to maintain sales to have reading groups devoted to genre fiction.

Let a thousand genres bloom!

Posted by: Alec on October 4, 2006 6:37 PM

I'm with Annette -- I don't know who's not talking about it -- there's a faculty mystery group at my university, I have a colleague who's way into science fiction and another one who teaches a course on Lord of the Rings and other fantasy lit -- we talk about genre fiction both in and out of the classroom.

Posted by: missgrundy on October 4, 2006 6:46 PM

C.S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism discussed this issue rather well, I think: he carefully made a distinction between bad books, bad readers, and "bad" genres (the last of which he argued really doesn't exist, at least not necessarily as an automatic feature of a given genre).

Bad readers he defined as following the pattern described above -- i.e., reading books in a kind of automatic, stereotypical way.

Posted by: Erich Schwarz on October 5, 2006 9:40 AM

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