On Facebook this week, I asked folks if they had any questions they'd like me to address here, and I received some awesome ones. Carrie S., who reviews science fiction and fantasy romance at SBTB, asked the following:
Why do readers feel so compelled to make blanket judgments about genres? In general, I'm not usually a fan of erotica or horror, but that doesn't mean that I hate all erotica or horror, or think it's stupid or all the same. I wish I had a penny for every time I heard someone say, "Oh, I don't like YA. It's all angsty"; "Oh, I don't like romance—those are just stupid, clichéd bodice rippers"; "I don't like sci-fi"; "All 'literature' is pompous." I hear this kind of thing from every corner—where does this drive to generalize and dismiss come from?
Oh, yes. Have you heard any of these?
"I don't read those books."
"Isn't it all porn for women?"
"They're all the same."
"I read one and it was awful."
"My friend/aunt/grandma/mom/someone else loves those!" (Often said with an air of disbelief.)
Except for the second one, those statements could be made about any genre. They're often handed out when discussing romance, but just about every genre—and literary fiction is itself a genre—faces the occasional dismissal from those who carry a sweeping judgment broom. It's a big broom. Don't be That Guy with the broom.
There are a good number of theories about why genre fiction, especially romance and sf/fantasy, seem to attract the sweeping judgment broom. Dealing with that broom requires some deep breathing, but perhaps also an examination of possible reasons for the broom may make the broom easier to avoid, or ignore.
There are a few sources of that behavior, but the first that pops into my mind is this: It can be terrifying for many people to admit that they have absolutely no idea what they're talking about.
Just about everyone reading this probably thought of that one relative Who Can Never Be Wrong and nodded their head. I know I thought of a few relatives right away.
It's true, alas. Some folks cannot say, "I don't know," or resist the opportunity to pass judgment on anyone doing anything. It's sad, but common.
Part of Carrie's frustration comes from the generalizing: All YA is angsty, all romance is rapetastic and bodice rippery, all science fiction is nerdy. Well, some of it could be. Tessa Dare, for example, tries to include a ripped bodice or some other piece of apparel in her novels, a joking nod to the inaccurate but perennial reputation of historical romances.
Often, the people who are first in line to pronounce all things crap reveal more about themselves than they perhaps intend to. Their experience is their own, but their sweeping judgment, alas, can be hard to take, especially if that judgment is delivered with condemnation or even mockery of you for liking what they do not. Sweeping judgment brooms and those who wield them are sometimes unsatisfied unless they also succeed in stirring up feelings of shame or inferiority in those who like what the broom-carrier disparages.
Eleanor Roosevelt is attributed as the source of the phrase, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Regardless of the phrase's provenance, the root message is the same. If you don't feel any shame or embarrassment about reading what you like, the judgment broom will be unable to do all its dirty work.
Greeting those broom-wielders with neutral acceptance instead of affront can defuse the antagonism—antagonism they might not realize they're creating: "You must have read a book you really disliked. Good thing there are so many different kinds of [genre], right? What book did you really enjoy lately?"
It’s a much more entertaining and interesting conversation when, instead of passing judgment on someone for reading something you don't like—e.g., "I didn't like that and you do, so clearly there is something odd about you"—a reader asks, "I didn't like that, but you do. Interesting! I wonder why?"
There are a few readers of Smart Bitches whose reading tastes are the opposite of mine. One wrote me an email years ago saying, essentially, "I hate everything you like, but love everything you hate. Keep up the good work." Learning where other people's tastes line up with one's own and accepting that they do (or don't) is a kind of reading enlightenment—and a straight path to increasing the number of good books to read in your to-be-read pile.
Accepting without judgment that sometimes folks love books you find really bothersome is 256% more fabulous than deciding that because someone likes a book you found offensive, that person is offensive, too.
I confess that I’ve been guilty of carrying the judgment broom. I think many of us have, most likely. I still feel bad about it. Yet, sometimes, it’s difficult to say you love a piece of fiction even when you're fully aware of all its flaws. It's even more irritating when someone judges something that you enjoy and love based on a small, or even single example, and you know you're being judged along with it.
A potential side effect of identifying what you love to read increases the odds that you'll be resistant to efforts to make you feel shame about it. The shaming of readers over any genre they like never fails to make my blood boil. To hell with what anyone else says. Show no fear, show no shame, and read on.
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned towards a book.