Thursday, August 17, 2006

There Went My Blood Pressure

Here at the office every morning is spent looking over a copy of Shelf Awareness that my boss forwards to me. It's a handy little e-newsletter mainly for booksellers - but we librarians glean some info from it as well. I'll admit - I tend to skim a lot so I had missed this joyful tidbit until our very cool children's fiction evaluator pointed it out to me.

Eyes on Austin, a non-profit, African-American community center in Austin, opened a small bookstore last Saturday, according to the Austin Weekly News. The store stocks a range of fiction, history and children's titles, but no African-American romance novels. "I want the community to read, but we have to be real picky on what we as a people read," project director James Hammonds told the paper.

OK this shit just pisses me off. Let me count the ways.

Yes, because your job as a narrow-minded bookseller (or librarian) is to force what you think is "valuable," "educational," and "enlightening" literature on to the masses. Basically you want to force-feed people not what they want to read, but what you think they should be reading. You don't want them to enjoy reading, you want them to start seeing it as a chore. Something they put on the same level as eating brussel sprouts, doing laundry and exercising. Shit - nobody likes to do any of that stuff, but we feel we have to. Reading should not be in the same camp!

Also, to add insult to injury, you just know these assholes are going to stock plenty of Walter Mosley and Octavia Butler (both genre fiction writers) - but they couldn't possibly soil their hands by throwing a Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson or Adrianne Byrd novel on the shelf. And will Chassie West be safe? I mean, she writes mystery, but she's "mass market original" so maybe they think she has The Romance Stink on her (actually she does - she used to write for Harlequin). And what about the fast-growing street lit genre? You single out romance, that awful trash about finding love and acceptance, but is street lit safe? What with the pimps and the drug dealing? Is that OK, or not?

Oh this shit just pisses me off. Besides the fact that they are shutting out a healthy segment of the AA writing and reading community, they're slamming the genre as a whole. She-it, if they're worried about "education" check out Beverly Jenkins! That woman loves to put bibliographic notes in her novels on the research titles she used! They could probably sell more history books that way.

Granted, bookstores are a business and should concentrate on stocking what will sell for them. But how do these idiots know? I mean, right out of the gate they're saying "Sorry, no icky romance!" They could be alienating a huge segment of their service population! They don't have numbers yet. Frankly this stinks of bad business practices to me, but what do I know?

I have this same issue with librarians who feel the need to "educate" or "better" their communities. Hey, I do think a large portion of my job is to help people "better" themselves and their circumstances. Whether that is helping them find a book to study for the GED or learning about some medical condition they were just diagnosed with. However, it is also my job to give people what they want within reason (so child pornography is out of the question). If they want to read Danielle Steel (lord help them), it is not my job to berate them or tell them "Oh no, you can't read that trash - you must read Barbara Kingsolver." It is my job to show them where the Danielle Steel books are (right next to John Steinbeck). And if I don't have any Danielle Steel novels? It is my job to move heaven and earth to get them some. That's just the way it is folks.

So when someone makes a sweeping statement with no basis in facts, or because they're narrow-minded assholes, it just gets my dander up.

And that's your Librarian Soapbox ranting for today. I feel better already.


walt crawford said...

Years ago, the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction (I believe: It could have been Asimov's wrote a piece about why some indie bookstores were going out of business--namely that they wanted you to buy what they wanted to sell, and would sneer at you if you asked for "that SF crap."

The more things change...

[I don't happen to read romance novels, at the moment, but I think your post is right on the money.]

Karen Scott said...

It's official, there's a f*cktard born every minute.

I can't believe that nobody out there has objected to this, it's really not his job to tell people what they can read. Why not just stock the books and let people choose?

Megan Frampton said...

You are completely right. Reading should not be a chore--I love that my seven year-old gets engrossed in comic books, and not the illustrated classics kind. He's reading, yay!

Although I do like brussels sprouts.

shayera said...

Literary snobbery strikes again. Gods, if I had a nickel for every time some fool of a patron runs down genre fiction, be it romance or science fiction, or whatever. My staff tells me that they can always tell when I've had to deal with one of these fools. Something about a twitching eyebrow.;-)
Somebody really needs to steer this guy towards actual sales figures.

Rosie said...

I loathe being told what to read. It aggravates me to have a bookseller make a condescending comment when I'm purchasing a romance novel. So this post really hit a nerve.

When my boys were in elementary school there was a campaign to ban the GOOSEBUMP books from the library. They happened to be my 4th graders favorite books. Sci-fi for kids if you will. Several parents who happened to be fundamentalists had meetings in their homes for parental support. It made me ill.

I was approached by one of the organizers and evidently surprised her with my vehement support of the books remaining in the library. Kids were reading for crying out loud!! Thanks heavens the group never did get enough support to ban the books, but it was disturbing nonetheless...kind of like the right wing Christian fundamentalists who think Harry Potter is bad. Ironically, the same people have no objection to Sleeping Beauty or Snow White that have witches and fairies and are make believe, but poor Harry et al are evil incarnate.

'Nuff said. Rant over!

Suisan said...

I just bought The Bartimaeus Trilogy in hardcover (by Jonathan Stroud) for my kids' school library. School librarian was very appreciative, but went on to tell me that she could really only accept books about wizards if they had been ALA Notable books. (Which at least one of them is.)

Because the helicopter Mommies have small hissy fits all over her if they discover that their darling innocent is reading a thick, long book about demons. Gag. Me.

And about what WE Should read--what if I don't like the books I Should read? Won't that cause me to think that reading is a chore, a boring exercise? I hate dogma.

Alie said...

I know what you mean about this. I took a course in this at library school this term and there's a lot of stigma around certain novels that some stuck up librarians feel it is wrong to suggest in a reader's advisory. One was The Da Vinci Code :S It's like a huge bestseller, but because of the controversy and issues with writing style, some up and coming librarians in my class stated they would not suggest it.

What we have to remember is to not put our own stigma on things for the general public we are helping.