Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Being Schooled on What I Should Be Reading

There was a recent discussion on Twitter about romance genre readers being schooled by authors and reviewers/readers on what readers should read. To which, I add, readers are also being schooled on how they should react to what they're reading. Instead of expanding, our world of romance is contracting. What those voices in Romancelandia slamming and shaming readers are failing to recognize is that reading tastes vary. And that is okay. No one has to like All Things. And that is okay.

My absolute favorite sub-genre in romance is traditional Regencies, which are completely monochromatic. My other sub-genre loves are primarily historicals and some contemporaries, and therein, I enjoy reading stories by #ownvoices authors about #ownvoices characters, in addition, to authors and characters of the dominant culture. However, I refuse to bow to the dictates by reading paranormal, urban fantasy, sci-fi, and erotic romance among other sub-genres—they are just not interesting to me.

In a bid to expanding my horizons and experiencing different worlds and points-of-view, I am trying to diversify my reading in different avenues. Where adult general fiction goes, and especially children's picture books go, I am eager to experiment with ideas and cultures widely divergent from my lived experience. As my Best Books list for All About Romance shows, my romance reading is fairly monochromatic, but as my Overall Best Books list for my blog shows, I'm more apt to be exploratory with general adult fiction and children's fiction.

Diversity to me means books by #ownvoices authors about #ownvoices characters, but it also means male authors since I primarily read women. If I don't seek out poetry, I would ignore it, and that would be a loss. Every time, I read a philosophical text or a biography, I come away with ideas I hadn't conceived of before, and despite knowing this, if I didn't make a special effort, I wouldn't pick these books up. Glitterland by Alexis Hall was an emotionally tough read, and I had to persevere with not giving up partway through, but at the end, I was grateful to have had the opportunity to read it. If I followed my inclination, I would only read romance, so I plan out my reading months in advance to be sure to include books that are in common parlance, but not something I would normally pick up.

There is no one definition of diversity, since it is subjective. Each reader has their own notion of what it means to them based on their own prism of awareness. Diversity then broadly means that readers are willing to be uncomfortable in their reading choices so as to experience disparate ideas.


Brie said...

I’d like to see concrete examples of this shaming that’s going around, because I haven’t seen anything, and based on a few vague tweets, I’m afraid people might be confusing criticism with shaming. Feel free to email or DM me if you don’t want to call out anyone publicly.

As for the schooling of readers, do you mean the calls for readers and bloggers to read and review diverse books? How is that 1. schooling and 2. a bad thing? I think that within the current romland context there’s a specific definition of diversity, meaning books by and about people of color. There’s a difference between having diverse taste and wanting inclusive representation. Having a preference and reading romance instead of lit fic is a matter of taste; the thing that makes one want to read a contemporary by a white author over a contemporary by a black author is most definitely not taste. No one is saying read more PNR or more historicals; what I’m seeing is people saying hey, within this genre or subgenre you love, maybe read more than just the same old white authors. And if these calls for action make us uncomfortable, perhaps is time to examine why (I’m not saying this is the case for you, BTW, I just want to understand what’s going on, because I’ve seen the subtweets and I’m puzzled by them).

Keira Soleore said...

What a great comment, Brie. I want to respond thoughtfully, so I’ll wait till I’m home and have access to my laptop.

Keira Soleore said...

I'm home now.

First of all, I'm PoC, so I am very pleased to see an uptick in books that represent me, that I can see myself in, as well as books that I see a wide variety of people in. Inclusivity and acceptance are so essential to humanity--it's who we are; we are all in this together. (Hello! Politics!) So I am 100% behind the #ownvoices movement that has achieved good results so far, though, unfortunately, a lot more work remains to be done.

Secondly, there wasn't a single incident that I can point to, but a result of watching and reading romance Twitter that I, and others, have come away feeling lectured and rebuked and hemmed in.

My "uncomfortable" term is a much more broadly-used term. You see it routinely used in academia, and even by my kids' English teacher, to describe things outside the purview of your lived knowledge. You never know what you may enjoy or learn from, if you don't read widely and outside your comfort zone/niche/rut.

Bottom line is that books are awesome, and it is for you to discover that for yourself.

As far as the schooling goes, readers are frequently being told on romance Twitter that they're doing it wrong, in their choice of books and in their reactions to books. This needs to stop. Advocating for something does not have to include denigrating people.

Brie said...

Oh, I know you’re not white, and I apologize if I came across as lecturing you! And I know that you support and read diversely. I should clarify, though, that when I said people were uncomfortable, I wasn’t referring to your use of the term in the post, but to those on twitter expressing their discomfort at being told what to read, which I still believe is not the case (that they’re being told what to read). I do think sometimes people can be a bit forceful in the way they express the need for people to read diversely, but with all the crap authors of colors go through in publishing and with *some* readers, I’m surprised they aren’t even more forceful.

As for the other point, I honestly don’t know. It hurts to see criticism of something you love. It hurts even more when it’s dismissed as something unworthy, not just because it has something problematic. I’ve been there, as I’ve liked New Adult books ever since they first started to show up. But I never felt shamed for liking them, and if there’s something being a romance reader has taught me is to dismiss empty criticism. In-house criticism and dismissal is nothing new, too, just ask Harlequin Presents and Category rom in general how it feels to be denigrated by a big chunk of the community. But it’s undeniable that recently there’s been a crop of new trends that are incredibly disturbing and that have vocal critics (and vocal supporters). And sure, there’s people who directly judge people, but mostly I see it directed at books, so I do believe that there’s a confusion between criticism of the books and judgment of the readers. To be honest, I’m more concerned with how some seem to be toning down their criticism. Have you noticed that more and more reviewers are subtweeting books and saying things like, “I read this book that had X problem” without mentioning the title? It’s interesting that we’re noticing two issues within the community that are in completely opposite sides.

Keira Soleore said...

I agree with you that there is confusion between criticism of books and judgment of readers. There's a growing feeling that when readers voice their opinions of books, if they don't jive with a certain set of people, they're told that they're doing it wrong and they're wrong for thinking like that. There's a judgment not just of their reactions but of their personalities. And this is not right.

All readings of a book are valid. How a reader interacts with the text is subjective. Yes, of course, the hope is that books are not read from a bigoted lens.

If readers are constantly told you're doing it wrong, then they are going to be hesitant about voicing their opinions, or will do so to select people. They may still read those books, but they're not going to comment on them, positively or negatively, because they've been schooled even about positive opinions.

There's similar schooling happening for choices of books. (I'm glad you haven't seen it, but is sure is happening!) I'm more limited in my romance reading but much more widely read in my general fiction and children's fiction reading. I shouldn't be made to feel bad about my choices, because they don't match the expectations of a select few voices.

Like I said before, there are books of all kinds being published, and books, in general, are awesome! And people, in general, should have the freedom to follow their inclinations. You would hope that they would experiment more, but they should not be castigated for not doing so.

Encouragement needs to be there, not denigration. And acceptance and inclusion comes from education.

Brie said...

I feel protective of readers’ right to voice their opinions, be they positive or negative. But I’m extra protective of those voicing anger and hurt, because I’ve seen a lot of silencing of those voices. In romland, we are braced for outsiders to come and trash us and we don’t really care about those opinions (rightly so!), but because of that, it’s important to listen to discerning voices within the genre because that’s how we change and grow, and every time I see someone complain of reader shaming, I wonder if it’s a silencing tactic (that may or may not be deliberate in its intent, but that it’s silencing nonetheless). It’s okay for someone to enjoy dark romance, for example, but that doesn’t mean that DR is beyond criticism and examination. Criticism should always be about the book(s) and of course there’s people who cross that line and judge the reader, but most of what I see is about the books. But maybe we should all start calling out those who shame, so no one has to suffer through it and the subtweets and vague references can’t be misconstrued. And I also want to stress, again, and I’m sorry for repeating myself, that there’s a difference between expanding one’s horizons by reading different genres, and expanding one’s horizons by reading diverse readers within the genre one loves. I don’t think anyone is forcing people to read something or dictating the right and wrong thing to read, but I do see encouragement to read and support marginalized voices. And like you said, encouragement is great!

Keira Soleore said...

"...there’s a difference between expanding one’s horizons by reading different genres, and expanding one’s horizons by reading diverse readers within the genre one loves."

Absolutely! I completely agree with you. And inclusion and acceptance of diversity of all types is needed in all genres.

I agree with you again: Silencing of any voice is a bad thing, be it an AOC or a reader.

To me, reader shaming isn't code word for AOC silencing. AOC used to be silenced, most definitely so, but now the pendulum is swinging the other way and readers are being shamed and silenced.

That is why I said above: "Encouragement needs to be there, not denigration. And acceptance and inclusion comes from education."

azteclady said...

I follow a very small number of people on twitter, so take that into consideration when you read the following:

I do think that there are some people who will always try to silence/shame other voices, so I don't doubt this is happening on all sides of the diversity conversation, though I have not seen it myself from all sides in the same numbers, or volume.

(all sides of diversity: about gender, race, religion, ability, weight, etc)

I have seen passionate voices advocating for marginalized creators who have grown tired of being told that "there were no PoC in Medieval Europe" or that "slaves in the US could not have had happy lives/HEA" etc, and I have seen some readers complain that those authors are shaming them, simply by being loud and passionate about marginalized voices.

I have also seen (and heard to my face), white straight readers saying that they ~~won't~~ read "that" (PoC's stories, or stories by PoC, or anything but straight, or anything bu Christian, or, basically, anything but white cis Christian).

So while I understand how grating it can be to feel that you are being constantly told *what* to read (and that you have to like it, too), and while I agree that some of those passionate voices can be read as shrill if you come into the conversation cold, I confess that my first thought is not charitable.

I too prefer calm, patient, encouraging voices to loud, curt, cutting one; and going by the honey v vinegar theory, it would likely widen more people's reading horizons if all those passionate people managed to keep their cool at all times while advocating for marginalized voices.

But I understand, completely, how those advocates have grown tired of always being the patient and understanding ones when yet another reader does this.

(Apologies for the negativity, I'm feeling a bit tired myself)

Keira Soleore said...

I am with marginalized voices demanding to be heard. They should never have to, but unfortunately they have to, because they're not offered a seat at the table. It's not their shrillness in demanding they be read that I object to at all. Thanks to their advocacy, I have found great books.

I also want to be clear that what I call shaming of readers is not happening only by marginalized writers/readers. If that is what the takeaway from my blog is, then I failed to adequately convey my stance.

Shaming of readers is happening by loud, vocal individuals. If you don't like the books that are popular, if you don't react in the right manner, if you don't read in the correct genre, then you're doing it wrong. Your opinion is invalid unless it falls within accepted parameters.

Should people read more widely? Of course! That goes without saying. There are so many awesome books out there, and without opening your eyes and heart, readers lose out on those books and those authors lose out on being heard.

But don't try to shame readers into reading widely. It never works.

azteclady said...

I don't think it's a failure on your writing as much as it is my own focus/bias/preconception when reading it.

Keira Soleore said...

Not at all. In such a charged post, it behooves me to say precisely what I want to say, otherwise I convey a position that is not at all me.

azteclady said...

I wanted to say earlier, but forgot: shaming people never works--unless the actual goal is to entrench them in their views.

And yes, being clear on what one means, particularly on thorny and charge topics, is essential. But it is also important for me to realize that I sometimes come in with such a bias, that it takes more than one reading to truly grasp what is being said, over the noise of what I'm already sure it's being said, in my head.

(If that makes sense)

Keira Soleore said...

"...shaming people never works--unless the actual goal is to entrench them in their views."

That is so true. Good point.

There was one well-known Caucasian author who a few months ago asked on Twitter whether the word "exotic" was problematic if used in the Regency, and if it was, what should she be using instead? Could someone point her to books where it was done right? People shut her down. They shouted at her, called her racist and said if "exotic" is the only word she could think of, then she had lots of problems. She should educate herself and should know better. I talked to her in DMs afterwards, and she was shaken up. Guess what? None of her books now feature PoC in the Regency. It was a teachable moment, and if they'd taken it in the spirit of a conversation, which is what she was going for, she would've learned and she would've educated herself and she would probably have written multicultural characters in her Regencies.

Keira Soleore said...

I should add that the term "exotic" makes me blanch whenever I see it. It's such a lazy shorthand instead of doing the work to truly depict a character who's different from the other character's experience. And of course, from some people, they use "exotic", because they are racist. However, you should not assume that in every case.

azteclady said...

(deleted the original comment because I forgot the quotation marks)

I find "exotic" incredibly problematic in contemporary settings--I imagine that Europeans considered anything from anywhere else exotic probably into the early 1900s, so it probably would rattle me less in a historical setting. But when your character lives in the present (anywhere from 1970 to now, for this old foggey), having them describe someone else (so often in their internal dialogue, ::sigh::) as having 'exotic eyes' or some such? It makes me rage.

Then again, these days I get very irritable when I see female/male used to describe rooms, objects, backgrounds. I get that the English language is gendered (and it's nothing to some Romance languages, such as Spanish, French, Italian), but to assign gender to everything from rooms to scent to freaking CARS?

Ugh, I can't even.

Keira Soleore said...

I agree. "Exotic" in contemporary terms, post-WWII, I find it downright problematic.

With this author, a Caucasia nobleman is trying to explain a mixed race woman to another Caucasian nobleman. She was seeking ways to convey that without wanting to use "exotic."

In the time the people took to shout at her, they could've pointed her to resources and/or given her examples.

I do understand, I really, really do that educating can be utterly exhausting when you have to do it over and over again. But shaming people and shouting at them is not the way either.

That is why I said to Brie above: "Encouragement needs to be there, not denigration. And acceptance and inclusion comes from education."

azteclady said...

Now I'm wondering what would have been a period accurate way of saying "exotic" without actually saying "exotic"--because there's the historical accuracy gauntlet too.

I am sorry this kind of shouting people down happens; sadly, the tendency to pile on on people who are perceived as 'wrong' is hurtful, not just to the individual being shouted down, but by the community as a whole, as bystanders get splashed with the fallout.

Keira Soleore said...

So very well said, dear Azteclady.