Friday News: On popularity, best of lists, attempted book banning, and Stormtroopers
When Popular Fiction Isn’t Popular: Genre, Literary, and the Myths of Popularity – There is a lot in this piece by Lincoln Michel to think and talk about. He goes well beyond simply arguing that the distinction between so-called genre and literary fiction is artificial; instead he takes on the whole idea of “popular fiction” across all genres, including lit fic. And I think it’s a good strategy, because it opens up a lot of questions about what books sell and what those books represent, in regard to quality, accessibility, and longevity. A book may sell really robustly in a short run, but does that make it more popular than a book that sells fewer copies for a longer time? Are genre fiction books really more accessible (he raises the issue in regard to encyclopedically detailed epic fantasy series)? And what about those books each of us loves that are not “popular” in either sales or reviews? Does that make them “bad” books (i.e. what values are we unconsciously inferring when we call books or genres popular)? And I appreciated his willingness to interrogate Jennifer Weiner’s arguments. I definitely have issues with the personal and commercial investment she has in her own arguments, and in the way that can compromise their cogency and integrity.
So are individual genres more popular than the genre of literary fiction? Well, that depends on which genre you mean. Despite the regular conflation of “genre fiction” with “popular fiction,” most genre fiction is not popular at all. I don’t merely mean that most books that are published in the various genres are unpopular—although that is certainly true. Most books don’t sell much period. I mean that most genres and subgenres are niche markets. You rarely see steam punk or bizarro fiction titles flying up the bestseller list. You rarely even see westerns or horror novels. By what measure are they “popular” fiction when literary fiction, which does regularly reach the bestseller lists, is not?
In reality, the bestseller lists are completely dominated by thrillers/mysteries, romance novels, and YA. Literary fiction titles are a regular staple. Other genres—westerns, hard SF, non-YA fantasy, and horror novels not written by Stephen King—are much less likely to appear. If you scroll through the New York Times combined print and ebook list, you’ll see a couple literary titles each week sandwiched between a bunch of big name thriller and romance authors like Grisham, Roberts, and Patterson. You’ll also see a handful of traditional adult SF or fantasy titles, but they are typically works that have been adapted for TV or film, such as Andy Weir’s The Martian. One could argue that Anthony Doerr and Jonathan Franzen are exceptions, and of course they are. But George R. R. Martin and Stephen King are exceptions in their genres too. The bestseller list is 100% exceptions. – Electric Lit
The 10 Best Books of 2015 – Seven of these ten books are written by women, folks. That’s seventy percent. And the picks include three works of translation. Authors range from Elena Ferrante, to Andrea Wulf, to Lucia Berlin, and the list is interesting and international. I know Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book seems to be everywhere right now, but it’s so powerful, I can’t begrudge it’s inclusion here, either.
Hundreds pack Mount Horeb library for reading of transgender book – The other day I reported on a Wisconsin elementary school that cancelled a reading of I Am Jazz, following the threat of a lawsuit from Florida’s Liberty Counsel. The reading was subsequently moved to the nearby public library and was attended by almost 600 people, and another reading at the local high school was attended by another 200, which is quite impressive for a community of about 7,000 people. A very effective response to the highly ironic attempted censorship by an organization allegedly focused on “liberty.”
The centerpiece of the library program was the reading of “I Am Jazz” by its co-author Jessica Herthel, who flew in from California to support the family. As a straight parent, Herthel said she wrote her book with Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl who stars in a TLC reality show, in part because she felt there were not enough resources for parents like her to teach their children about acceptance.
She said she was overwhelmed by the community response in Mount Horeb.
“I think it’s a barometer of where we’re at as a society,” she said in an interview. “I think we’re more ready to hear about this issue from a child’s perspective, because we know a child isn’t making a political statement or rebelling against society. Kids don’t know not to tell the truth, and we’re getting more comfortable with that idea.” – LaCrosse Tribune
Teen Lovingly Poses Stormtroopers Assembling a Christmas Tree. It Will Make Your Dorky Heart Burst With Joy. – Not quite as highbrow as the Dante Lego creation, this (unintended?) homage to Toy Story is fantastic. Pay attention to the details from image to image, because there are a few unexpected moments.
Kyle Shearrer, a high school student from Columbia, Mo., posted a hilarious photo sequence on Facebook on Sunday that shows Stormtroopers putting up a Christmas tree from the tree skirt on up … with some help from the Force. – Yahoo!