Wednesday, June 11, 2008

genre bending

This post is brought to you by a conversation at a friend's house last Saturday night, a recent post by the ever-eloquent Pop Culture Librarian, and my favourite book blog Bookslut (eyes right, and ye shall see the link for clicking). See how I'm always aware how situations can link up and provide me with blog fodder? Impressed? I thought so.

The whole "stuff" issue in LG's post was spot on, as I am a huge stuff-hater, although I wasn't always this way. At the present time I'm constantly in the process of paring down stuff, simplifying stuff, throwing out stuff, giving away stuff and refusing to bring stuff into my home. This is just a choice I've made over the past few years, and it's working well for me. I used to be more pro-stuff, but having acquired two stuff-magnets (aka small children) the whole issue of stuff has become a boil on a sensitive area of my person, and I really, really cannot handle the stuff. (seriously, I'm going to try not to say "stuff" again in this post.)

The thing that really hit home in the post is the bit about the books. I don't buy books either. Books are given to me as gifts, but honestly? For me myself, I just don't buy them. I'll buy books for the boys (Scholastic school book orders anyone?) and the purchase of a book is often an event celebrating an awesome test result, a newly-earned karate belt, or some other such occasion. But for me? I just don't want to own books. There, I said it. My books come from the library, and are returned to said library once I have finished reading them.

Lots of people are book buyers, and more power to them. In the conversation at my friend's house, our lovely hostess was talking about almost-receiving a Sony Reader for Mother's Day (I say almost because the Sony Store just is not down with the whole "sure it will be in for this special day") because she's a book buyer, and the Reader means downloading books at a likely less expensive rate, and also no clutter for bookshelves. (I am paraphrasing and probably not well - I had rocked a couple of gin & tonics prior to this conversation, so I can't account for total accuracy) I can totally respect this. And I might eventually even be able to get behind the idea of the Reader or the Kindle. But for now, library books r us. I mean me. Whatever.

Now those of you who know I work in a library are probably nodding sagely and thinking "ah, she's supporting the public library system, no wonder she isn't a book buyer", and you're partly right. I've always been a fan of the public library and the services it provides. I am fortunate enough to live in a large city with one of the best library systems in the province, so hells yeah I am going to take advantage of what I got. The other part of the equation has to do with just honestly not wanting to own books, and the last part of the equation has to do with Bookslut.

Bookslut's blog is one of the feeds I get in Bloglines, and while I used to subscribe to dozens of book blogs, I've slowly been paring them down one by one, until I was left with only Bookslut. Basically, this is the site that has recommended (or steered me away from) many, many books over the past couple of years. When I read a review and think "yeah, I need to read that" I go straight to My Account at the public library's website, log in (I have my library card barcode number memorized awww yeah), search the book, and request it. Seriously. Sometimes, if it's a super popular bestseller type, I will be have the dubious honour of learning that my "Position in Request Queue" is... 165. Am I depressed that it could take months to get this book? Nah. At any given time I have - on average - 20-25 books on request. That's right, people. And about once every 2-3 weeks, one of those books becomes available to me. I go to my branch, check it out, read it and bring it back. And by then another book is on deck, and it's all just so good.

One of the things I love about Bookslut is the fact that no genre is applied to any of the books being reviewed. The labels - Mystery, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance - are never used, and time and again this has proven a very good thing. When I browse library or bookstore shelves, I am always irked - that's right I said irked - by genres. And while I understand the necessity of giving labels to books, to help direct readers to the type of book they like, I also think the same labels can do an injustice to the books in question, and can eliminate potential readers, based on the genre to which they've been assigned.

Case in point. In a recent Bookslut entry, the book The End of Mr. Y was spoken of rather highly. I followed the link to the entry for it, read the blurb (still one of the strangest words in the English language), and went immediately to my library page and requested it. It's a couple of years old, so it didn't take much time until it was available for me to pick it up. I drove to the library to retrieve it, and as I was checking it out, I noticed the label on the spine: Science Fiction. Dude. I do not read Science Fiction. Ever. WTF? But the review was so good, and the blurb (hee!) so interesting, that I took it home and read it. And. I really, really liked it.

Having read it, I think probably the Science Fiction genre label was a fairly decent call, but there was so much more to the book that what is normally deemed Science Fiction. I'm sure someone did their absolute best in assigning the label, but if I had seen that book on the shelf with the blue SF spine label? I would have walked right by it, without a second glance.

I guess my point, if I have one here, is that it's always good to think outside your genre, whether you're a book buyer or a book borrower. As I said, I've never been a fan of the whole labelling of fiction, and I continue to take particular offense to the genre of "Canadian Fiction" - um, Canadian authors write in a whole range of genres, thanks. I still kind of feel bad about the argument I had with my genre fiction instructor in my library program over this very topic. I'm sure she's recovered by now - physically if not emotionally.

So really, if you're a lover of the written word, it really doesn't matter, does it? Where it comes from, in what format it's written, whether or not you own it, what label it's been given. But I'm going to leave you with a dare. Dare you to read something outside your comfort level. Dare you to read in a format you've never considered. Dare you to read a book from your local library, should you not be a library user. And me? I might just get myself to Indigo and buy something. Double-dog-dare.

Oh, and I'm painfully aware that in the last half of this post, I substituted "stuff" for "genre". Sorry.
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