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Genre Wars: Never Apologize for Your Reading Tastes

Post by Duncan Smith
Posted July 02, 2012 in Readers' Advisory News

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Just in time for beach reading season, The New Yorker has fired the opening salvo in what is surely the longest running skirmish in the Culture Wars -- literature vs. genre. This struggle can also be put another way -- good books vs. trash. Arthur Krystal covers familiar territory in "In Praise of Guilty Reading Pleasures," (The New Yorker, May 28, 2012:81-84). He points out that George Orwell "had a weakness for escapist fiction, for "good bad books." The article also has Martin Amis praising Elmore Leonard, W.H. Auden lauding Raymond Chandler and Eudora Welty "gushing" over Ross MacDonald.

And at the risk of having everyone think I only read The New Yorker, their combined June 4 & 11 issue focuses on science fiction. There are several interesting and thoughtful articles about this genre (featured in the June issue of RA News). There is a powerful piece by Ray Bradbury on how the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs shaped him as both a reader and a writer. He says that if it wasn't for Burroughs' Barsoom series, The Martin Chronicles would not have been written. While not technically science fiction, Karen Russell talks about her love of Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara series and about how she went under-cover with her reading because of pressure to read more "literature."

While this debate is familiar territory for us in RA Land, what might not be as familiar to us is the fact that RA has genres too. Bringing together readers and books is not only about face-to-face conversations at a library desk. That is just one RA genre. In the July issue of RA News, Becky Spratford explores reading maps as a new way to show readers the geography of their favorite books. Jessica Zellers' article on book challenges works territory that is strongly connected to Krystal's article and the experiences of readers like Bradbury and Russell. In "Whatever Happened to ChickLit?," Bethany Latham explores the demise (and resurrection?) of what was once a popular genre.

Readers' advisory has gone through periods when it has flourished and times when it has been under siege. Right now, more than ever- readers need help in finding the books that are just right for them and someone who lets them know as Betty Rosenberg did all those years ago -- that they should NEVER apologize for their reading tastes.