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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Don't Judge a Book by it's Cover- or Genre (TSS)

The Sunday
I don't read science fiction. Oh, unless The Time Traveler's Wife counts, because then I totally do. But I don't read fantasy! Unless you count Graceling by Kristin Cashore, because I'm reading that now, or The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, because I loved those. And I don't read thrillers, but I'd really like to read In the Woods by Tana French, which lots of people tell ms is spooky and tense and thrilling. Westerns are stupid and dusty and I'd never read those. Wait. I LOVE Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry! And chick lit is all about pink fluffy mindless girls who wear pointy shoes and the covers are SO embarrassing, so I definitely don't read those. Except I did love Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes, and while THAT cover has book pink and pointy shoes, the cover of the one I read did not.

My point? Doesn't it make me look like an idiot to claim I "don't read" specific genres? Wouldn't I be stupid to judge a book by it's cover? EVERY genre has good books, bad books, and GREAT books. Nymeth wrote a great post about why she reads and loves fantasy and many of her commenters agreed that it was silly to stereotype books. So why do people do it to romance?

Ok, yes, the covers can be bad. But how often does the cover accurately predict the contents anyway? Have we learned nothing from the Liar Controversy? There are definitely some bad romance novels out there, I'm not about to say there aren't, but just as in any genre there are also some good ones. And don't bring up the whole "romance novels are just porn for bored housewives" thing, because the people spouting that the most are the very ones who only read a romance to LOOK for that. I don't read a lot of romance novels any more, but it used to be the only thing I read and I still have some favorites and follow genre in general.

The point of this post is not to make you read a romance novel, but rather to ask why this stereotype is still allowed long after it became ok to openly read other distinct genres like science fiction (have you seen some of those covers?) and horror? Why is it shameful to read about looking for a happy ending when most of us would readily admit to wanting a happy ending of our own? Are romance novels stigmatized because women read them? Does that mean that books for women are inferior? What a slippery slope that is!

I'm sure your next thought is: well then Lisa, recommend a book to me! But I'm not going to. My goal isn't to make you go read a romance novel. It's to have you think about why you might keep stereotyping an entire genre of books based on either their cover, their title, or an experience with a badly written novel you read back in 1987.

If you're insistent on reading one, you could do worse than to ask the nice bloggers at:
The Book Smugglers (winners of TWO BBAW awards!)
Book Binge
natuschan- books, books, and more books
Babbling about Books, and More!
The Misadventures of Super Librarian

Obviously this is one of my big literary pet peeves. I react to "I don't read romances!" the same way other bloggers might react to someone hating poetry or writing in books. Next Sunday I'll share my other pet peeve, but until then, tell me what never fails to provoke you regarding books? What do you defend every time you run across it? What misconception makes you stop and leave a comment?


  1. This is a really great post! I love how you started it off. I find myself saying things like that sometimes, but I always try to stop myself. And I'm absolutely always willing to have my opinion changed. Especially about romances and chick lit!

  2. Your question really makes me think. I don't enjoy every genre, but I certainly don't judge someone else who does. There's room in this world for all kinds of readers.

  3. THANK YOU! I share this peeve, how I share it! In the school staff room I have more than once been praising a work of science fiction (and its teachability) only to have my colleague's reply, "I just don't do Science Fiction". Then they look at me blankly as though it's acceptable to write-off an entire genre. On this basis they would not read Ender's Game, for example - EVEN THOUGH it had a class of "Alternative English" students reading...ACTUALLY reading! I shake my head in disgust.

  4. I agree, I agree! Great post. My pet peeve? It's one I've posted on before... when someone says, "I don't have time to read." Yes, it's THEN that I get pretty defensive.

  5. Hmmmm...I recently said that I cannot stand romance so this is probably all about me. Nah, just giving you a hard time.

    I am a book snob. I am the first to admit it. If I see a cover that looks cheap and gaudy I chalk it up to be chick-lit or romance. Yes, the story may be well-written and yes, I might even like it should I decide to pick it up but for some reason, I don't get past that point.

    However, If a close friend of mine stuck a romance book into my hand and said read it, I probably would because I trust his/her opinion.

    I feel sometimes that certain genres choose certain covers to emphasize what they are, which is okay, but I wish they'd choose wisely and not go with something so cheesy. I am talking about bodice rippers here.

  6. Interesting; would you believe I just left a comment this week on a blog I discovered through BBAW saying I loved the design of the blog but I don't read romances? I thought you were writing this for me! Ha. I agree it's a close-minded to eliminate an entire genre (hey, Time Traveler's Wife is a romance too, right?)... usually when someone asks me what I like to read, I say that I don't prefer any one particular genre, but I just like a good story. There are certain genres - mysteries, romance, chick lit - that I like to read one or two of and then switch to something else. I wouldn't want to read all mysteries all the time. Anyway, in terms of your question, I can't think of any huge book pet peeves that I have or feel the need to correct. Maybe when people say that their kids don't like to read or that babies are too young for books. That makes me cringe a bit.

  7. I just read a similar post which dealt with stereotypes and books. I enjoy a good romance now and again especially romantic suspense. The covers of some paranormal romances also tend to detract some readers but I love a good paranormal book no matter the cover :) Great post!

  8. I enjoy Georgette Heyer. I've given a couple other romance authors a try (ones very popular in the blogosphere) and not been impressed...BUT I'm just super pick. Like, I call myself a mystery lover, but most of the new authors I try I don't like. :)

  9. See, that's me. I say I don't read something and then I think about and discover that yes I do!

    My pet peeve was always that fantasy/sci-fi was a male-only genre. I don't find that stereotype is so bad now, or maybe I just know so many women that read fantasy and sci-fi that I ignore it!

  10. My pet peeve is historians that think legitimate history books have to be academic texts. Historical fiction and graphic novels like Maus and Persepolis can engage people who might never otherwise pick up a history text.

  11. rr, thanks for being open minded!

    Suey, that one bugs me too. I think that I might only have time for a couple pages a day some days, but I do have time!

    Eva, like everything else, not all authors write the same! Some are very plot heavy, some character heavy, some heavily researched, some not. As long as you're not writing off the whole based on a small part, I'm cool.

  12. I'll admit that the covers of romance novels really turn me off from them. I think part of it is because the covers are all so similar, it makes me assume that the stories are as well. But I really determine whether or not I'm going to read a book based on the story and the reviews I read.

  13. Bahahahahaha! I hope the recent medieval historical romance novel assigned by my daughter for me to read didn't inspire you to anger. It was bad, but, on the other hand, it made Pride and Prejudice shine forth as a magnificent romance novel.

    Sometimes the "I don't read...." statements are based on past reading experiences and aren't always judgmental. I'm sure my aversion to romance novels began in the 70's.

  14. I think there's a stereotype that "real" readers don't read romance. I know I was a snob about romances for a long time. But when I fell for them, I fell pretty darn hard. It's actually fairly difficult to write something when you are constrained by genre definitions and expectations so I'd argue that romance writers are pretty darn adept (no, not all of them) in general.

    Anymore I try to say I don't read much of a certain genre rather than saying I don't read it at all because there are always exceptions to the rules for me. :-)

  15. I have to say, it makes me CRAZY when people are all snobby about Twilight. If you don't like it, that's fine, but to look down on everyone who enjoyed it, well, I find that just nauseating. At a library conference last year, a few authors were kind of coming down on Twilight which I thought was incredibly unprofessional.

    Great post, as always.

  16. My pet peeve? The audiobooks aren't reading thing, or the one Suey mentioned "I just don't have time to read"

    Great post -- and a nice reminder to me, because I've found myself discounting misc. genres before.

  17. Lisa, great post. I react the way you do to "I don't read kid's books!"

    So much so I made a post about how to convert those scoffers to fans. ;-) Check it out, might be some things you can reapply to romance scoffers!

  18. I don't really buy into the stereotypes in terms of reading what I want to read, but I am conscious that they exist--and like with my reading a graphic novel in public--there was embarrassment there at first, but I got over it pretty quickly. It wasn't going to stop me from reading the book.

    I am more annoyed by those who look down on others for what they read. I've seen it go both ways. Those who criticize readers who like to read literary fiction or nonfiction and then those who criticize readers who prefer lighter fare. Or like someone did to me today, gave me a hard time for reading a depressing book. "Why would you want to read that? I get enough of that in real life!"

    While I won't say I don't read a particular genre, I fully admit that I have said that I don't especially care for straight romance novels. And that comes from reading experience. I don't mind romance as a side dish, but I don't care for it as the main course. I don't like the taste of coffee either. I don't think there is anything wrong with not liking to read a particular type of book. We all have individual tastes and preferences. It's the reason behind it that irks me, depending on what it is.

  19. I only skimmed the comments, but I agree that the "I don't have time to read" thing really burrows under my skin. I bet you have time to sit in front of the boob (TV) or computer and waste time that way!! (Hmmm, kind of like how I'm blogging right now instead of reading...).

    I'm not big on love stories. I LOVE romantic movies but in books it makes me feel a little uncomfortable for some reason. Guess I'm more for the dysfunction. :) But in high school my friend let me borrow her book Ransom (can't remember the author) and I really liked it a lot. Something about Scottish people or something.

    Anyway, I don't judge people on what they read, though. I hate being judged for what I read.

  20. I love a good romantic story. I do. But I can't think of any real pet peeves of mine in terms of reading. My husband makes fun of me because I read a lot of children's books, but I don't think that counts. Love this post though.


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