Genre, Part II

After a brief break to discuss some dudes who may or may not be made of iron, more on genre!

This is the touchier bit, so I should note beforehand that I’ll be away for the weekend. If I don’t respond, it’s not because I hate you and your cat, but rather because I’m in New Hampshire being attacked by friends of mine dressed up as zombies–yes, I LARP, I’m a geek like that–and also by some truly frightening mosquitoes. (Last time, I lost three pounds, and I think it was all blood.) I mean, hopefully I will handle this with tact and diplomacy, but you never know, with me.

The thing is, I find genre pretty damn useful, because I know my tastes and will cheerfully indulge them. I like some sort of fantasy or supernatural element; I like historical settings; I do not like Downer Endings (thank you, TV Tropes).  Sometimes, I can go off of already existing authors or friends’ recommendations to get all of the above*, but I read fast, people only publish so many books a year, and sometimes I’m standing in a train station looking for reading material and need some guidelines.

Yes, sometimes a recommendation or whatever will take me outside my preferences*, and that’s good. But Earth really is full of things, as the King of All Cosmos reminds us, life is short, and the MBTA is not known for its patience, so having a smaller category in which to look is a good thing. Honestly, so is anything that increases the chances of me reading more of what I like.

Except, and here’s the touchy part, that genre as a concept carries with it a lot of baggage, particularly certain genres. Which is not to say that life as a genre reader or writer is sooo hard and nobody understands me, blah blah annoying use of the word “mundanes” blah blah, because that sort of thing also bugs me, but I do write for two categories–romance and fantasy–that get a fair amount of sniffiness from time to time, and it bugs, and I have at times responded to “Why don’t you try writing something that’s not fantasy?” with “Why don’t you try BITING ME? It’s fun!”** So I am not exactly a detached and impartial observer here.

I’m more cranky, honestly. Because genre does not and never has correlated to quality, and people have all kinds of different factors involved in their choices of media, and much as I’m actually quite judgmental personally, I think that we could all do with a little less conflation of “stuff I like” with “stuff that’s good”. (And even of “stuff that’s good” with “stuff that people ‘should’ be reading”: there is a place in life for the mental equivalent of circus peanuts.) And yes, there are books with let-us-say-“problematic”-because-this-is-my-tactful-blog approaches to race, sex, sexuality, etc, and there are or were standards in the industry that did not help in that regard, and these are topics that can and should be discussed and acknowledged. It’s also fine to think and say that a work is bad, of course***, or to not personally care for a particular style of music or literature or TV.

However, genres–of music, of books, of whatever–are great big categories, they say nothing about the writing or composing ability of someone working in them or the mental state of someone who prefers them, and making statements like “meh, rap sucks” or “horror is not good literature” shows the person behind them in a worse light than whatever it is they’re complaining about.

 *It depends on the factor: it’s relatively common for me to read modern or original world fantasy, reasonably so for me to read non-supernatural historical books, but I almost never go for anything that’s depressing.

**Okay, I didn’t actually do that, because we didn’t get to reply to comments in creative writing class, and that…was probably why. Because I would also have gone on to ask why the person in question didn’t write about something other than angsty teenagers being angsty, and frankly, our discussions devolved into back-and-forth sniping half the time anyhow, and the TA didn’t really need more. Poor TA. Poor, kind of cute, TA.

***Although there’s a time and a place. I had a blind date once who–after monologuing for an hour about his favorite TV show–asked me what I liked. I said, among other things, The West Wing, and he promptly looked at me like I’d just suggested eating three-day-old egg salad. “I hate that show! Everyone’s too witty and bright–it’s so unrealistic!”

Rather than giving the obvious snarky answer, I tried to get my English Major on and said that I rather liked a more stylistic approach to dialogue, at times, but that certainly TWW probably wasn’t what you’d be looking for if Gritty Realism was your thing.

To which he huffed back “Well, people just don’t talk that way!”

And I suddenly realized that, while I’d had a truly lovely time, I had to work early the next morning, what a shame, have this firm handshake, goodbye.