I read all over the map, but the genre fences are strong for some. I was reminded of this by two events yesterday. In the first, a person I know well interrupted a conversation I was having with another reader.
“What? You’re talking about romance?” Actually, Romantic Suspense, but OK. “Oh, YUCK!” The person walked off, making the icky shudder faces well known to those acquainted with toddlers. I returned to my conversation. Now the first woman was uncomfortable. “I read other things too. I have a lot of Baldacci, I like history.” I steer the conversation gently back to where it was, soothing ruffled feathers on the way. The subtext was “Please don’t think less of me, please respect me.” Eventually we get back on topic, but minor flashes of insecurity continue. I want to tell her it’s ok to read books by women, it’s ok to read books for women. It’s ok to read something that isn’t by men, about men, that isn’t about punishing women or white women teaching black women how to rise to whiteness, or tragic or all the other things that are Acceptable Media when romance is not. She will say she knows. She will say it in the same tone a woman uses when you tell her that guy wasn’t worth the tears “Oh, I know that” she says. But they don’t.
The Romance Hater returns. I happen to know her favorite book is the Twilight Series and I steer the conversation into revealing that. Twilight has been made into a movie, it’s been a bestseller, it’s been on magazine covers, so Twilight is ok. My Romance Hater can love Twilight without the tarnishing brush of Romance because of it’s elevation to Acceptable Media. (She also loved The Hunger Games, which is a dystopian romance at it’s core, but is also Acceptable Media given it’s adaptation into a film and it’s YA status.) Her fervent love for these books, the things about them that appeal so strongly to her over other books she’s read are not their romantic elements. They are not, because she does not like Romance. I don’t know if that can create a lightbulb moment for my Romance Lover or not. I can only do so much.
Every book is a frog. Until you kiss it you can’t know if it’s a prince or not. Other people can kiss it for you but no princess ever got the crown waiting for approval. Sometimes the frog can’t be hidden by even the most determined elevation to Acceptable Media. Like an emperor without clothes, some readers find frogs in the most elegantly attired.
Yesterday a class of second graders had assigned reading. In the tale a young teacher is reluctant to accept a job transfer. She likes her school. She likes her students. She is happy there. Her husband has no patience with her judging the transfer without experience and drives her to look at the new school. The children were supposed to laugh at the teacher’s misconceptions and cheer her discovery that new things can be better than the old, that new experiences can be worth exploring. The children were asked to identify the humorous elements of the tale. One student wrote “I don’t think this story is funny. It is about a guy forcing a girl to go somewhere and do things she does not want to. That is not funny.” The student went on to cite a passage where the husband orders the wife to get her shoes and get in the car as an example of his dominance and her submission. The frog in the story of male dominance overcame the student’s ability to see redeeming aspects in the intended message of personal growth. For some readers, an elevation to Acceptable Media cannot overcome their personal response.
It’s My Genre, Baby because I read it. Whatever I read, whatever media it falls into, the only genre that can ever matter to me is mine.