G is for Genre Snobbery.

I like to read. I’ve always liked to read. When I was little I used to sit on the toilet reading the back of shampoo bottles and would sit glued to the back of a packet of Coco Pops while eating my breakfast. I read for lots of reasons, sometimes to escape, sometimes to be entertained, sometimes to learn something. It depends on how I feel at that particular time.

What I really hate though, is someone telling me what kind of book I should be reading, or someone judging me because of what I’m reading. Genre snobbery is like any kind of snobbery, it says more about the person displaying it than the person it’s directed at. It’s everywhere. You know the kind of person. The kind of person who claims that the first album they ever bought was the Beatles’ White Album on vinyl when we all know it was Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. (Mine was Neil from The Young Ones, singing ‘Hole in my Shoe’ on 12 inch. Deal with it.)

I don’t particularly like the way that writing is pigeon-holed into genres, it’s very limiting and very unrealistic. As a writer I like to write in lots of different genres. I’ve published erotica, horror, chick-lit and YA. The names themselves annoy me. Why does the ‘lit’ written by women have to be ‘chick’? It makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Mad Men but without the pointy bra and nicotine addiction. And Young Adult. That sounds patronising and feels like it should be accompanied by a pat on the head. I just want to write, without being limited by a label, my head doesn’t work that way.

But it’s mainly the prejudice that comes with these genres that makes me feel uncomfortable. To label one particular genre as being of a lower quality than another is just narrow minded. Take Chick Lit. It’s often described as badly written and shallow, demeaning to women and full of clichés. Quite pretty to look at but with no substance. I’ve read bad books in this genre, as I’ve read bad books in every genre, but to dismiss a whole genre of books based on just a few is really ignorant, and huge a shame because you might be missing something really good. I’ve read Chick Lit books that have shown real emotional insight, sentences that I have had to read over and over because they’ve summed something up so brilliantly I don’t want to forget them.

Books are great, there’s one for everyone, whatever mood you’re in. Why must we only read one kind? We don’t only eat one kind of food. We eat things that are good for us and things that are not so good for us and things that are downright bad for us, but at least with food there’s some kind of scientific formula that dictates what is good and bad. Writing isn’t a science, it’s very subjective. Who decides what is highbrow and what isn’t? Is there a rule somewhere that states that there should be a certain number of similes and difficult words?

Why should ‘easy to read’ automatically be dismissed as shallow and fluffy. Why must we work for the essence of a book. And while we’re at it, what exactly is wrong with a cliché? A cliché is a cliché for a reason, life is full of them. Life is full of humour too, often very dark humour. We find it in really bad situations, it’s human nature. It’s how we cope, it doesn’t take any of the meaning away from that situation.

But my main point is this, what’s it got to do with anyone else? In what way does it affect anybody else? If you don’t like a certain kind of book then here’s a tip, put it down and walk away. It’s horses for courses. You can take a horse to a chick lit book but you can’t make it buy it. (Other animal proverbs are available).

So read what you want to read. Write what you want to write, and actually, write what you want to read too. If you want to write a book about a zombie serial killer who gets dumped and falls in love with their boss and flies away on a spaceship and ends up in the middle ages, do it, do it now. It’s got to be better than the back of a packet of Coco Pops.

 

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “G is for Genre Snobbery.

  1. Bravo! There should be no ‘guilty pleasures’ in the world of reading and writing, only ‘pleasures’.

  2. Exactly that. Well put!!

  3. Kate Boardman

    Exactly. Some nights a thick, juicy steak does it for me and yet, on other nights, nothing hits the spot like a KFC bucket with a large tub of gravy. (Well, you were the one who put the food reference in there). ;)

  4. Nancy Jardine

    Yep! It can be problematic when your work isn’t fitting the sub-genres that publishers want your work to fit into. What follows that scenario is -axe this bit …and hype up this other bit! You end up with a hybrid- (speaking from personal experience).Nancy at Welcome to she said, he said

  5. Mr Uku

    As a writer of Monkey Lit, I could also care less about genre. I’m just happy if people read my stuff. And if I get as many readers as the Twilight series then I’m winning.
    In other news, I read what I like and couldn’t care less what other people think. I’ve read horror, classics, crime, and children’s books. And I don’t just mean Harry Potter, I mean Mr Gum and picture books like The Queen’s Knickers.
    People need to worry less about what is being read and celebrate that people are reading.

    • Yes, surely the most important thing is that people are still reading. They might be reading the back of a cereal packet but that might make them move on to. say, reading the back of a box of washing powder. From that you’re virtually at War and Peace…

  6. This is a little off topic- but your first paragraph reminded me of this quote from Laurie Anderson:

    “It’s like sitting at the breakfast table and it’s early in the morning and you’re not quite awake. And you’re just sitting there eating cereal and sort of staring at the writing on the box–not reading it exactly, just more or less looking at the words. And suddenly, for some reason, you snap to attention, and you realize that what you’re reading is what you’re eating … but by then it’s much too late.”

    I read the backs of shampoo bottles, too…

    Ruby is participating in the A to Z Challenge
    Ruby Wilbur

    • We should form a support group!:)
      Just had a look at your blog, Ruby, there are some stunning pictures on there. Tried ot follow but an error message came up. I’ll try again later.

  7. Colin

    In essence, I completely agree with you, Tracy. My only caveat is that we shouldn’t become so comfortable with our own reading preferences that we refuse to “stretch” ourselves and try something different. For example, many who read broadly may deliberately avoid certain genres (e.g., “classic” or “literary fiction”) because it’s usually advocates of those genres that are putting them down for their “lower-brow” reading choices. But this is a mistake. If we intend to be broad in our reading, then let’s see what we might enjoy and, as writers, what we might learn from genres that are not our regular cup of tea.

    Depending on our circle of friends, there can be a lot of peer pressure to read certain types of books and avoid others. And if we want to appear cultivated, well-read, and sophisticated–or if we want to appear hip, with-it, understanding of our culture, and cutting-edge–we will choose our literature appropriately. Such thinking gets us nowhere.

    There are few genres I will not read. One that leaps to mind is Erotica. That’s partly because of my faith convictions, but also because I don’t generally read Romance (i.e., stories where getting the guy/girl is the main concern), so Erotica (i.e., stories that center upon their sexual exploits) is hardly going to be any more enticing. But I’m not opposed to reading a Romance if it’s a really good, compelling, well-written story. Likewise a Western, or a YA Contemporary. And I apply that same standard to Classics and Literary Fiction. I want to read great writing, believable characters, excellent dialog, and compelling stories. And that applies to all genres.

    Now that I’ve written my own blog post within your blog post, I’ll leave you alone. :D

    • I think we should read anything, not limit ourselves because of what other people might think. There are no genres I avoid, there are certain kinds of books I don’t particularly enjoy but I’m open to any suggestions and actually, thinking about the last few books I’ve read, I don’t think I could tell you what genre they were, they were just good books.
      I don’t feel peer pressure, or any pressure to appear cultivated. My friends know who I am and I choose books because they look interesting, not because I should read them.
      One thing that has opened up my reading is joining a book group. We take it in turns to choose the book and as a result I’ve read books I never would have chosen, it’s been really interesting.
      And now I’ve written another blog post within your blog post on my blog post! :)

  8. I had over 4000 books shipped to Brazil with me, so I’m a bit of an expat lending library and I’ve been surprised at the snobs, with the omg you don’t read Jackie Collins etc. To me it depends what mood I’m in, love most genres and have most of the classics, some as dull as dishwater, bit like the snobs that admire them so. Good writing is what’s important, a need to turn the page. I’m especially fond of some indie writers and have been downloading lots. Very good post, happy A to Z.

  9. Haha. I used to read the back of the cereal packets as a kid as well!

    I couldn’t agree more. Every ‘genre’ has a lot to offer, and I think everyone should feel free to read what they want, and write what they want!

    Rinelle Grey

  10. Great post and I love the term genre snobbery. I think snobbism pervades most of culture and its enjoyment, just look at art and film as well. It is also entering news delivery and readership. A diversity of genre and opinion is the spice of life. Happy A to Zing!

  11. Fantastic post. I find it unfortunate that so much of the writing industry is wrapped around marketing. I love different types of reading and writing. There’s no need to marginalize yourself.

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