So, once again, I haven’t done a very good job of keeping up with my monthly reading challenge. I planned to read a ton of genre fiction. However, with only a few days left in the month, I’ve only read three books. Once again, I’ll blame my library holds. My long-awaited copy of Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird arrived. It was captivating and a little strange. Now Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea and Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments are on my hold shelf, so it looks like I’ll be putting off my genre fiction even longer.
At some point, I may have to do a catch-up month where I read some of the LGBTQ authors I missed last month and some more genre stuff. In the meantime, I’ll talk about what I did read and why I think reading genre fiction is important for librarians (and fun for anyone else who’s interested).
First, a disclaimer: when I talk about diversity, I’m not talking about reading books from different genres. I think it’s important to address the privilege involved in reading diverse titles for fun, particularly equating reading different genres with reading titles from underrepresented groups. While I will be doing some fun reading challenges throughout the year, including genre fiction, I will continually try to include more LGBTQ writers and writers of color in my selections. As I mentioned, I think this is incredibly important for librarians. We’re in a position to introduce readers to new books through displays, reading lists, recommendations on our social media accounts and through readers’ advisory at the desk. We have to think about the kinds of books we’re recommending and how our recommendations can fight or, unfortunately, sometimes reinforce existing prejudices.
As I browsed the romance shelves at my local library, I noticed there weren’t very many non-white bare chests or heaving bosoms. I was glad to find Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins, who is African American. I met Ms. Jenkins at romance festival (more on that in a moment) in 2012 and hear her speak. She was smart and funny, so I was excited to read her book. While I still don’t consider myself a romance fan, I did enjoy the story of Mariah Cooper’s journey to California and her affair with womanizing rancher Logan Yates.
As I said, I met Ms. Jenkins at a romance festival. During library school, I had a chance to work with one of my classmates and a fabulous librarian, Jennifer Lohmann (who is also a romance author), to coordinate an event called Fall Into Romance, a weekend-long event that included talks by several local authors, a chocolate tasting and a book signing. As someone who mostly reads literary fiction, I had hoped it would help me understand the appeal of romance. It did. All weekend, people said again and again that romance was written by and for women, an idea I love. Readers talked about how the books celebrated sexuality and offered escapism. They were unashamed of their love for these books.
In my popular fiction class, we discussed the stigma that often comes with reading romance and other genre fiction. It’s considered low-brow, not real literature. Readers can be reluctant to approach librarians for romance suggestions, because of how they might be perceived. That’s why I want to read romance: so that I when someone checks out a Brenda Jackson novel, I want to be able to chat with them about it and recommend similar titles. I want to create great romance displays and romance-related programming. And I feel the same way about horror and mysteries and every other genre.
So if you’re interested in finding some great romance, you should absolutely check out Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Dear Author. And if you’re interested in readers’ advisory for romance, grab a copy of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction by Joyce Saricks. I plan to keep a copy of it with me at my new job.
Stay tuned for next month’s challenge. I promise I’ll try to read more than three books!