This week Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad. This book has been critically lauded since it was published, and honestly I was not only happy that a woman won it, but also that the committee didn't go completely off the reservation like so many of the other literary awards did this year (I've spent most of the fall and winter reading these announcements going "Huh?" and "Who?!?!") Of course, in true "literary genius" fashion, Egan ultimately did what so many others like her have done before. Instead of saying, "Thank you, it's a great honor, I worked really hard yada, yada, yada" she took the opportunity to tear down genre fiction (in this case, chick lit) in the wake of her victory.
Now, I'm not going to rehash that here. I mean, just because Egan has won the Pulitzer doesn't mean she's incapable of being ignorant (Yeah, I just said that....). The Smart Bitches have a nice rundown with links and various comments for your perusal, so I'll direct you there. At the end of the day, I expect this kind of statement from writers like Egan. This kind of shit is like oxygen in that community. So while it annoys me, it doesn't surprise me.
What continues to surprise and annoy me though are people in my profession who should know better. I'm often asked what makes a good collection development librarian, and my stock answer is someone who can leave their personal opinions and various biases behind when they walk through the office door. Nothing gets my goat more than when I hear a librarian say something like, "Oh, nobody in our community wants to read that." Or librarians who build their library's collection as a shrine to what they personally like to read. A big part of being a librarian is biting your tongue. Every time I have to buy a new Danielle Steel novel a small piece of me dies inside - but you know what? I still buy it. I might think she's a gawd-awful writer, and it pisses me off no end that people classify her as a "romance writer" - but just because I think her books suck eggs, doesn't mean that someone else out there isn't allowed to like them.
Just because I don't like it, just because I don't understand it or necessarily "get it," doesn't make it wrong. Crap is in the eye of the beholder. What's derivative drivel to one reader, could be the Great American Novel to someone else. What is mind-numbing garbage to one reader can be a deep and profound reading experience for another. Also, newsflash: there is good crap and bad crap in every corner of the book market. No one "type" of book - be it mystery, science fiction, romance, general fiction, history, self-help, true crime etc. holds the market share. There is plenty of both to go around, believe you me.
Look, at the end of the day, the world at large needs genre fiction. It is the job of genre fiction, all genres, to reinforce everything that is right and "good" about us. And by "us," I mean human beings, society and civilization at large. Genre fiction holds up a mirror. The hero's journey, good vs. evil, the resiliency of the human spirit, love, acceptance, our collective sense of justice - these are all themes and ideals that genre fiction reminds us of over and over again. Yes, The Real World isn't fair. It can be a cold, dark place that chews up innocence and spits it out. But genre fiction is there to remind us of what we strive for. Genre fiction is the goal. Think about it, when you ask a little kid what they want to be when they grow up, none of them ever say:
"I want a life filled with loneliness, toil and misery."Genre fiction is not new. Go back thousands of years and think about legends that were told around communal camp fires. About stories that bards and minstrels relayed from village to village. If you're going to slam romance novels for happy endings, you have to tar and feather a bunch of other stuff with the same brush. Hell, Odysseus eventually got his ass home!
I take a fair amount of crap as a romance reading librarian. I hear it from colleagues, library users, and garden-variety assholes. I had someone say to me recently, when they found out I liked romance and mystery novels, that I must like "predictability." Sadly, since I heard this while representing my employer I couldn't tell the guy to kiss my big white predictable ass. He got the condensed version of this blog post. But you know, his statement didn't really bother me that much. I mean, I expected it from him (trust me, I just did), just like I expect it from someone like Jennifer Egan. I know me expecting it doesn't make it any less annoying. It doesn't make them any less wrong. You don't like it? Fine. But don't tear me down for liking it.
And sadly, it's that tearing down I still see from too many in my profession. You don't like it? Fine. Don't read it. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't collect it. That doesn't give you a free pass to alienate or belittle. And dear God in heaven, don't try to "educate" the poor huddled masses who you think are sadly misguided in their reading choices that they genuinely enjoy. Our job is to make it available. To put it "out there." It's not our job to beat people up. It's also not your job to cause the Mutha-Effing Librarian Of The Year's head to explode . Folks, I don't need any help in that department. I'm halfway to crazy all on my own.