May 15 2007
There has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the publishing realm over the downsizing or wholesale elimination of newspaper print review sections due to lack of advertising dollars. Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Book Review section was the latest casualty. AJC’s decision to terminate Book editor, Teresa Weaver, started a print and blogging furor. A hue and cry was raised and some even went to picket the AJC.
The fact is that the demise of print reviews is meaningless to me. The Atlanta Journal Constitution never reviewed books that interested me. Ditto for the LA Times (books are now merged with opinion section). The same for the San Francisco Chronicle (section cut from 6 to 4 pages).
When the LA Times re-purposed its book review section, it also launched a website aimed at increasing book coverage. I was heartened to hear that it planned to expand its coverage, at least online. Then I read what type of books would be reviewed: “For books there will be columns be about mysteries, science fiction, children’s literature, literary news and more reviews than in print.”
I emailed LA Times to inquire about its conspicuous exclusion of the romance genre. I’ve been holding my tongue for a while now awaiting a response from the LA Times but having read the cry for the bigger tent discussions at Critical Mass, my teeth have let go. Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, noted in a blog entry that while blogs may have their place, the purpose of newspapers is that they provide a place for “bigger tent discussions”.
With book stores carved up into smaller and smaller genre fields, from chick lit to lad lit to graphic novels and so on, it’s important that there’s a place where books by writers, regardless of their genre, can be reviewed in front of a large audience by critics who have experience in the field
The problem is, NBCC, your big tent discussion clearly has no place for writers like Deborah Smith, Madeline Hunter, or Julie Kenner. If science fiction and fantasy is becoming mainstream, why no straight press reviews of the amazing dragon shifting series by Shana Abe?
The LA Times and nearly every other print book review section, other than the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit Free Press, has basically given me and every other romance reader the big old fuck off sign for decades now. Or since forever.
There are emotionally powerful books labeled romance whose contents are summarily dismissed as not worthy because of a title, a cover or even because it ends happily. Deborah Smith never was reviewed by the now unemployed Teresa Weaver. Smith has always written emotional, touching Southern novels which focused on the family dynamic but for some reason, her books never were interesting enough for Weaver, a purported champion of Southern writers.
Karen Rose writes consistently good suspense novels but perhaps because they involve sex and end with a committed couple, they somehow lack gravitas that PJ Tracy or Robert Parker enjoy. Elizabeth Hoyt‘s fall release, The Serpent Prince, is breathtaking in its emotional scope, with its heightened violence underscoring the tenderness between the main protagonists. There’s something glorious in the ability to be swept away into Meljean Brook‘s June release, Demon Moon, a complex world where vampires battle for rights amongst the supernatural. In September, Eve Kenin breathes new life into the urban fantasy world with Driven whose post apocalyptic vision of the future (or alternative dimension) balances intricate world building with character development.
If you truly are interested in literary criticism and discussion to take place under a bigger tent, why not include the genre that comprises over 50% of mass market sales? Whose umbrella includes everything from high fantasy to urban fantasy to contemporary dramas to costume dramas. Whose writers have backgrounds that vary from scientist to pilot to doctors and lawyers and professors? Whose readership is in the 60 millions and 42% of the readership has a bachelor’s degree or higher? Whose books are reflective of the changing mores of society as well as the variance within the body of readers regarding the definitions of sexuality, desire, hope, fantasy, redemption, and love?
We’ll never be included in that big tent discussion and frankly I am happy to give you all the finger right back. I won’t be signing your petitions, sitting at your rallies or blogging about your terrible quandry of declining readership and advertisers. Perhaps if you understood that women’s fiction which ends happily isn’t a disease that requires antiseptic solution if you even breathe the same space as the pulp, you wouldn’t be in dire straights.
I’m not at all sorry that your big exclusionary tent, that has no room for me and my people, is falling down around your ears. The whole point of book reviews seems to be to get people to read more books. Of course, those mainstream lit critics want the “right” books to be read. But if literacy is what is at stake here, don’t sneer at those of us who read a book a night. It might not be your choice, but it’s reading. We readers beget readers. Maybe if you made space for us, you might still have a print review section and advertisers.