Sunday, August 28, 2016
Long have I mocked my library's anti-feminist ghettoization of the romance section. Where I work Romance is the section that exists under the pretense of being a genre, but functions more realistically as a minor league dumping ground. Romance fiction that has the barest whiff of literary merit is promoted into another genre or, more usually, into the straight fiction section. If a book is popular enough it is promoted out of Romance as well so that no one need embarrass themselves by having to check out a romance book. And, finally, perhaps most tellingly, if a man writes a romance novel it is completely safe from ever being even considered for shelving in the Romance section..
Traditionally my solution to this problem is the same one I would use were I given authority over the problems of class stratification and runaway income disparity in America: I would use every device possible to make a full array of class and wealth levels live together in mixed neighborhoods. And so when it comes to the ghetto of Romance we start by bringing the most revered and respected Romance novels into the Romance section. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights are obvious choices, but we can get far more creative from there.
However, this is not a change we have made, or seem remotely ready to make at my library. Our romance section remains the same. And so I think of it once in awhile, and I wait.
But today, while upstairs shelving in the fiction section, faced with whole chunks of amazingly similar thrillers full of powerful men, nuclear submarines, murderers, grave injustice, mavericks, navy seals, sinister villains, ex cops, and the fearsome motives of foreign empires and men that other men admire but not as much as women do, I was struck with a new inspiration, a new solution. If we absolutely refuse to de-ghettoize our romance section we don't have to be out of options. We can instead try to bring balance. I propose a new library genre section for every formula thriller, every military hardware book, every rugged mystery and nuclear brink American fantasy, every steely jawed hero, every book driven by delusions of masculinity and righteousness. We can call it Bravery Fiction maybe, or Dudifiction, or anything we like. No girl writers allowed! And the military should usually be involved, unless it's all about a macho lone wolf, but I'm sure there's room for both. And if anyone with a shred of literary judgement or cultural coolness thinks well of one of these books it will not belong there.
Are these books bad? All these dudifiction books and all the romance books? No, no, this is only what this misuse of genre has taught us. In the end they're just books. Any group of books, any genre or subject of books can be made bad if you carefully choose only the worst of them to group together.