Genre, you've WON.
29 April 2015
One of my freelance gigs is helping to write the Reader's Advisor Online blog, which is published by ABC-CLIO as a great, free service. We post at least twice a week: once, on Sundays, with our "Run Down," which is a list of reading, author, movie adaptation, and book-related news stories and headlines (as well as professional development tips), and on Thursdays, with the "New, Noteworthy, and No-Brainer" list, designed to help library staff be aware of new books coming out.
Anyway, in my work for that blog, every day I routinely scan 500-800 online headlines, most of them having to do with books and cultural news. So, although I don't actually spend a lot of free time perusing the Internet, scanning those headlines tends to give me a picture of what's happening online from week to week. And one of the most common types of stories I come across is what I call the "Woe is Me, I'm a Genre Author/Reader/Promoter/Fan, and I Just Don't Get Any Respect!" story. Here's an example:
This one's actually pretty benign; it's about Sarah Wendell, the blogger behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and her interview at NPR, where she says this: "Romance readers are so often subjected to shaming, we’re not actually ashamed of the books that we read but we’re told we ought to be … even by the people at the checkout counter at the bookstore."
Really? You're telling me everyone who works in bookstores isn't just glad that anyone is still buying SOMETHING at bookstores? Even romance?
But I digress. Usually when I see this type of story, romance/chick lit/women's fiction/mainstream fiction-author (or, if you prefer, just plain "author") Jennifer Weiner seems somehow to be involved. The latest story of this type was this one:
Jonathan Franzen Is Still Mad at Jennifer Weiner, Modernity
Weiner and Franzen have a long-running feud that isn't so much played out against one another as it is in a million hashed and re-hashed print and online stories.* The basic gist is this: Weiner thinks Franzen gets all the respect because he's a guy and a "literary fiction" author, and she further thinks that review sources should pay more attention to the types of books that people actually read**.
These articles make me NUTS. And not because I hate genre or anything. I don't. I happen to read a lot of genre (and watch it too--I'm currently addicted to Firefly and am starting to think Joss Whedon might be the best writer of genre ever--discuss), and Mr. CR has bookcases full of it.*** What makes me nuts about these articles is the picture they paint of the poor, outcast genre authors, who don't get the respect or reviews that "literary" authors get. Which is bullshit, first off. Genre books may not be over-represented in such hallowed literary halls as the New York Times review section or literary magazines, but they OWN the world of literary blogs. Let me ask you this: You know a whole lot of great blogs for literary fiction or nonfiction? No? How about blogs about genre fiction? Um, if you can't think of any of those, here's a handy list of a ton of them.
So, even if the blogosphere isn't enough proof for you, let me just point out that a ton of other review sources, like magazines and newspapers like USA Today, also review a lot of genre fiction. And have you ever gotten a look at ANY bestseller lists, even those published by the New York Times? They contain almost ALL GENRE TITLES. And have you seen this article, about the highest-paid authors from 2013? I don't even need to take a count--all fifteen authors on that list are genre authors (except perhaps for Bill O'Reilly, although I would argue what he writes is genre nonfiction--Simplistic History/Politics for Nutjobs genre nonfiction). And here's the Forbes list of highest-paid authors. Also all genre authors, unless you don't consider Gillian Flynn and John Green to be genre authors. Maybe not John Green, but I would definitely consider Flynn to be a "thriller" author.
So genre authors make the most money, and don't forget, their works tend to lend themselves more easily to film adaptation. All in all? I think it's rather unseemly of genre authors to demand that they also be allowed to take over the more "literary" review publications. It reminds me of yet another quote from the movie "Broadcast News," when William Hurt asks Albert Brooks what you do when your real life exceeds your dreams, and Brooks hisses back, "Keep it to yourself!"
You've won, genre authors. Now keep it to yourselves.
*This makes it one million and one!
**I find this kind of insulting, personally. Just because a book is read by MORE people doesn't mean it is the only readable book. As long as one (or, okay, two) person somewhere reads a book, that is a book that people "actually read."
***Which I tease him about, but still. Obviously I allow it in my house.