Apprentice Writer brought up an interesting point in one of her May posts - see numbers 1-4 under "Overall." (You remember AW, right? Reviewer of humorous fiction, blogger extraordinaire, forgiver of this American's disinterest in hockey?) It was one of those subjects that pushes my buttons big time and so I thought I'd say a few words about it (ok, probably more than a few). And I'd certainly be interested in other readers' thoughts because maybe I'm blowing things out of proportion.
When you've got to decide where a book belongs in the stacks you usually start with genre. My third edition of The American Heritage College Dictionary (and yes, I do still pull it out even when online) defines genre as: A type or class. I, for one, like genre as it gives me some idea of what to expect in a book.
Let's start with big picture genre:
Now let's get a little more specific:
You'll notice that everything listed so far reflects in some way on the tone and/or content of the book. This is very useful information for a reader looking for something that falls within their interests.
Now let's explore those buttons I mentioned. Here are some other commonly used labels:
Those four tell me fuck-all about the book I am going to read. But rather than go into that I'm going explain what really burns me up: these are an indication of OTHER which presumes a DEFAULT. In this case the default becomes WHITE HETEROSEXUAL MALE. Have you seen a Whitey McWhiterson section? A straight section? How about men's fiction? Where can I find that? The not-so-subtle message that I receive from this is that we can all relate to the white heterosexual male books but these OTHERS are for, and will almost exclusively appeal, only to the OTHERS. Bull, and might I add, shit!
I'm an avid reader. I read practically everything. I'm looking for a good story that's well-written with authentic characters. PERIOD. I also happen to be a white, heterosexual, female reader and I feel that a mere accident of birth should not be looked upon by an entire industry as an excuse to pigeonhole me. Far worse than this though, are the authors that end up pigeonholed because of assumptions regarding their potential audience.
And since I'm calling the publishing industry to task I feel it's only fair to point the finger back at me. I volunteer with my county's adult literacy program and one of my colleagues was very helpful in reminding me that I have my own prejudices to overcome. Age-wise he is almost old enough to be my grandfather, also he was born and raised in Mexico which has, I think, a male default mentality like the US (and many other countries though I would be happy to be corrected), and so when we started chatting about movies and he was trying to remember the title of a recent movie he liked I was surprised (unfairly, I see now) to realize that he was describing The Proposal. He then proceeded to list about three or four other recent rom-coms. I asked him why he enjoyed them so much and he said he really likes stories about interpersonal relationships. He likes to see how families, friends, and significant others work out their differences. So the kicker here (besides the fact that I obviously need to work on my assumptions as much as the publishing industry does) is that while I don't read much of what is found under the so-called women's fiction/chicklit labels, my male colleague would very much enjoy these stories.
So you tell me, is it wise to purposely alienate potential audiences? And also, what do you think about this? Does it get your hackles up, too, or do you like these labels because they tell you right where to go in the stacks?