Tuesday, 19 April 2011

World Book Night: ‘Genre Fiction’ to go…

The Stephen Hunt inspired mass protest by authors of the ‘Horror, Fantasy and Sci-Fi’ genre against the imbalance of the Beeb’s World Book Night coverage struck a chord.
So I thought I would add my two-penny worth in support of the opinion that the wilful ignorance of genre fiction by the media, including national newspaper reviewers, does indeed filter down to inform the attitudes of their eager acolytes in the bookshops of Britain.
Gently interrupted by authors in their ‘perusal’ of titles authoritatively recommended as suitable to be seen with, their looks, ranging from pity to disdain for these creatures proposing they look at works of fantasy or horror, are intended to convey emphatically to the audience around them that a severe misjudgement has been made in taking them for readers of genre-fiction.
With reactions ranging from a polite “I’m sure it’s very good but I don’t read that sort of thing” to a silent turning away from or the more physical ‘swatting aside’ of these impudent interlopers, they return to their study of those titles guaranteed to ensure their credibility as literary types.
[As an author of fantasy, nonsense and horror, for children and adults, I encounter this reaction almost every week at signings (I have sold over 5,000 books at signings over the last two years or so) among those seriously poring over the latest batch of approved novels.]
Narrow interests are not the exclusive preserve of the well-heeled reader: there are as many trapped in genre-ghettos unable to unable to see over the walls of categorisation. (hard G, short E for Genree – “Biogs is my Genree” – not least among these)

Then there are those who exclude ‘fiction’ altogether – i.e., I only read history – as if every recounting of history or interpretation of the world were not a fiction of sorts…

“What genre is it?” The question one comes to accept with sorry resignation as emanating from one trapped in small-brained servitude to parochial boundaries, unable to regard new work as worthy of regard except through categorical filters defining for each his limited spectrum of acceptability.
“A tale of the Imagination,” I answer, hoping to side-step the issue, at least until I have discovered what he categorically will not read.
The instinct for tribalism is all-pervasive and does not dissipate with scientific and cultural ‘advancement’ – it is just the spheres within which tribalism manifests that change.

“What age-range is it aimed at?” The inane alternative posed by those eager to narrow-down their options to avoid looking for themselves.
“Free-range,” I put on the jacket, hoping to side-step the issue, at least until I have persuaded them to look at the book or allow me to ‘talk them into the story’ enough to think that, perhaps, they too might enjoy trying something new.

I guess it’s all about finding reasons to justify NOT stepping outside the comfort zone of habituation.