Genre snobbery is a bitch

 

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I feel like it’s a becoming a biannual tradition for me to point out “sorry, you don’t get to dictate taste”. Sadly, there’s a reason this keeps coming up: every so often a member of the literati pokes their head above the parapet to denigrate genre fiction. Today’s “inspiration” is a famous literary fiction author who decided to give genre fiction a go, only to (rather hilariously) state they don’t like that particular genre… cos that makes sense. Now, without naming names, this is almost part of the course for literary fiction writer’s foray into genre fiction- they assert “but I’m not a genre fiction writer” in the same way one might say “I’m not a prostitute”. Well, as a genre whore, I take offence to this kind of language 😉 Aside from the blatant hypocrisy, I don’t think genre snobs have quite thought this through…

spaceFor starters, there is unfrickin-believable-out-of-this-world genre fiction. One of the funniest parts of this person’s argument was that they didn’t think that genre fiction explored humanity with any depth- LOL! Clearly, they’ve never read genre fiction cos there are *far too many* examples for me to list. The crux of this criticism is that they seem to think you can’t simultaneously write well and develop your world building- which is about as logical as saying you can’t eat a banana and ice cream at the same time 😉 The two are not mutually exclusive (in fact they go together rather well). So, if you’re going to judge a book by its cover, the joke’s on you. Especially because…

the greatest of all timeToday’s “genre fiction” could easily be tomorrow’s classic. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but realism doesn’t always win out in the end or make it into the canon. And some genres (romance novels, gothic literature, even fantasy etc) do better than you think. Literary fiction stands the same chance of going down in history as one of the “greats” (regardless of whether the publisher slaps “modern classic” on the back or not).

you're not wrongThe customer may not always be right… but they’re not wrong! Let’s be real: you can’t be wrong about your own taste. Not only that, but most readers read genre fiction. The idea of going after the consumer is becoming increasingly popular- yet it doesn’t make it any less futile. A word to the wise- no one will be convinced to pick up your book just cos you said they shouldn’t pick up some other person’s book (in fact there’s a strong chance of reverse-psychology-ing them into picking up the one you told them to avoid).

party on dudesPlus, us genre sluts are having a lot more fun than the genre prudes. We’re not tied down by immature “you need to grow up” arguments levelled at adult YA readers; we’re not threatened by a bit of flirtation with genre bending books. We just dive straight into the whorehouse of endless tastes- otherwise known as every bookshop/library/personal collection ever- and glut ourselves on whatever’s on offer. Gotta say it’s liberating to let go of your inhibitions and just join the party. Don’t be shy, you know you want to 😉

Im outThat said, if you’re still taking yourself too seriously after that analogy, I have one last truthbomb to drop: no one is the GOD EMPEROR OVERLORD of taste. No one’s taste is infallible; no one gets to act like an authoritarian hack when it comes to literature. And I’m not gonna apologise if that’s hurt any egomaniac’s feelings for saying that. I’d say “anyone who truly believes that they know best about what people should be reading needs to take a long hard look in the mirror”, but that’s probably what they do all day. I’m sure their hand is sore from patting themselves on the back 24/7. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t have much time for anyone who thinks like this anymore 😉

And with that, I’d like to ask you guys what you think of genre snobbery? And are you a genre whore like me? Let me know in the comments!

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Addressing “Entitled” Fans

 

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Am I the only one that thinks this whole “entitled fans” debate is getting old already? For those of you who haven’t seen this phrase bandied about, well first of all lucky you, and second of all it’s basically becoming a catch-all phrase to describe disgruntled fans. A couple of years ago it was used to describe Star Wars fans for not lapping up the trash that was The Last Jedi; more recently it’s been dug up again to sling at those of us who are unhappy with the ending of Game of Thrones (more specifically for a petition that I don’t feel the need to go into cos it’s much the same as any other petition on the planet).

A lot of the time, this argument seems to be a way to shut down criticism- which is never a good look for a creator. Aside from the fact it often seems like people with MASSIVE platforms going after the little guy, let’s just say throwing your weight around shouting “HOW DARE YOU CRITICISE ME FOOLISH MORTAL” makes something else seem a little bit inflated… 😉

That said, the creator isn’t necessarily wrong for standing up for themselves. After all, if they had a vision for their work and the audience doesn’t like it, that’s not their fault, right? And harassing the author/creator/whatever isn’t okay. No matter how much we might love something, we don’t have ownership of it. And in the words of Mick Jagger:

you can't always get what you want

So, I actually do get that a creator really shouldn’t have to do what their audience wants. That’s why I say REVIEWS ARE FOR READERS– they’re made after the fact and aren’t designed to make the author change their ways. Still, while it may be true that “art is not a democracy”, it doesn’t then follow that “ergo I never have to listen to criticism”. Nor is “I don’t have to listen to you because you’re just a fan” a great argument. Because here’s a little secret: FANS WANT THE PROPERTIES THEY LOVE TO SUCCEED. That’s why they’ve poured their time/money/hearts/souls into these projects. And to forget that is to forget what made success possible.

This is particularly significant when looking at modern, commercial art. When we’re talking about huge franchises like Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Harry Potter etc, we’re not talking about its creation in a vacuum. These hugely successful properties owe more than a little to their fans. The fact is, shows/movies/books even are being treated more like products; likewise, creators have been willing to treat fans more like customers. And that’s fine- but then it doesn’t stand for writers/producers to still say “it’s art, we can do whatever we want!” Because you can’t expect to act that way when taking people’s money AND get no complaints if you miss-market said product. As a fan, I might be more forgiving if things don’t pan out exactly as I want; as a customer, I won’t be as happy. For instance, if I go into a restaurant and order pizza and you give me ice cream, I’m not going to be happy (no matter how much I love both). Customers rarely want subverted expectations. Which brings me onto one of the biggest areas of debate…

elephants game of thronesNow, here’s the thing: subverted expectations aren’t always a bad thing. Game of Thrones in particular was known for it- and known for doing it well. There are times when I wish the creator had gone the unexpected route. And some art exists in that beautifully comedic and meaningful sphere where art breaks all the rules. Some of my favourite works exist in this bubble: Guards, Guards, Carry On and even the Alan Partridge books! Fans don’t always want to be serviced, if you know what I mean 😉 But, in the case of the elephant (or lack thereof) in the room/Seven Kingdoms, trying a bold manoeuvre like subverting expectations has to be well executed.

Funnily enough, a lot of criticism like this is actually fairly technical. Mary Sues, subverted expectations, fanservice are all terms that existed for a long time- and yet they’re being brushed aside for causing “offence”. Ironically, this feeds into the idea that there is a right and wrong reason to criticise art nowadays (or to criticise criticism). With call out culture waiting in the wings, (often verified) journalists are able to rile people up and simultaneously forbid regular consumers from questioning creative “genius”. This doesn’t seem like they have the audience’s best interests at heart: it seems like thinly veiled elitism, pulling up the drawbridge and gatekeeping competition.

That could just be my sceptical brain going into overdrive though 😉 To be on the safe side, let’s just engage in honest discussions, not resort to stifling conversations by throwing around ad hominems and stop calling fans “entitled” for voicing opinions.

So, what do you think of the “entitled fans” debate? Do you think fans go to far? How do you think creators should respond? Let me know in the comments!

Misconceptions of Negative Reviews

 

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A few weeks ago, I saw something that has become the norm online: a famous author (who shall remain unnamed) saying why people shouldn’t write negative reviews. Now, not only is *criticising criticism pretty hypocritical*, it also comes across as someone with a fair amount of power trying to stifle conversation- and let’s just say I don’t approve. But going beyond this individual’s fame and success, there are a lot of people who hold similar views. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people choosing to only do positive reviews, but I think negative reviews get a bad rap. Sometimes I just think people don’t understand why people do them and assume motives that aren’t there. So, I thought I’d break down where I reckon these misconceptions are coming from:

meanMisconception #1: Critical reviewers are MEAN. Well, that could be true, who knows? 😉 Just kidding- I think this assumption is reading wayyy too much into things. Beyond the fact it’s probably not a good idea to psychoanalyse strangers on the internet, I also think that it’s not taking into consideration that people are different and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some reviewers are blunter than others, some are snarkier, some are funnier- because that’s their personality. Not to go all Big Five Personality on y’all, but (and I can’t believe I have to point this out) being more agreeable (for instance) doesn’t make you inherently a better person. For goodness sakes- you don’t have to like everyone’s way of doing things, yet I think we can all agree that how you review isn’t the next Great Moral Debate!

the devil hocus pocusMisconception #2: We want to upset authors. Also known as the “reviews are meant to help you improve” idea. Ermmm no. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: reviews are for READERS! That means whether the review is positive or negative, it’s not designed for the author. Frankly, I’m too shy to @ authors when I’m being entirely positive- but I definitely would never do that if I had even a smidge of criticism there.

never happyMisconception #3: We’re hard to please… okay this one is totally possible. And I did see a really great video about critical reviews, which suggested there’s a possibility you’re reading the wrong books for you 😉 HOWEVER, while this could be true, most reviewers will have a mixed bag. I know I do. And the thing is, even positive reviews can hold criticism- which leads me onto…

throw booksMisconception #4: We don’t love books. Pahahaha- so because we don’t like your book, we can’t like any books?! I mean, this is just plain silly. Why dedicate hours and hours to a passion if we secretly don’t like it? Really though, this feeds into the idea that we can read *everything* *all the time*- which is daft. Encouraging people to read endlessly is preposterous. So much so that even positive reviews should point out the downsides- and vice versa. For instance, while some people are put off by slow books, I’ll be perfectly happy to give it a try. Even when I’m gushing, I don’t aim for mindless POSITIVITY- for me it’s primarily about getting people to be able to find the right book for them. Sure, this isn’t always possible, but it’s worth a try!

stop reading

Almost didn’t put this meme in cos it personally offends me!

Misconception #5: Negative reviews are to stop you reading! Again, negative reviews are often pretty nuanced. They’re written to explain why someone may/may not want to read something; they’re not explicitly designed to deprive other people of pleasure. A great review helps readers make informed decisions (see above about not having the time to read everything ever written). BTW people who read reviews also aren’t braindead- *SHOCKER* readers are smart and can make up their own minds whether to trust the reviewer thank-you-very-much! As someone who watched and read reviews long before I got into doing it myself, I think it’s safe to say I know how to read a review without losing my sense of self. It’s quite possible to see a negative review and say “I’m going to read it anyway!” Which brings me onto…

im-right-youre-wrongMisconception #6: We think WHAT WE SAY GOES! We’re not gods or always right (that’s why I did a post about how not to review). Reviews are biased, they’re not objective. You don’t have to listen to them all the time and you can come away thinking something completely different.

Misconception #7: We’re playing 4D chess… Cos right now there is this idea that you will get ALL THE VIEWS if you get a little snarky. While I don’t deny this can be the case for some people, I’d say I have the same stats on negative and positive pieces. Plus, this is a good opportunity to come full circle in the piece and say PEOPLE ARE A BIT MORE COMPLEX THAN THAT. You can’t just bottle up people’s reasons for doing things in simple “oh they’re just looking for attention” terms. I for one didn’t start my blog for just one reason (and I can tell you when I started attention wasn’t even a remote possibility on my radar). So I think it’s time to finish off my piece with some age old wisdom:

when you assume

And with that I’d like to know what you think- do you reckon people have misconceptions about negative reviews? Or do you think any of these are spot on? Let me know in the comments!

What even is YA?

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Eh- that’s a tough one.

There are all sorts of things that can go into a YA book: coming of age stories, themes around “firsts” and a heightened sense of emotion to name a few. One thing’s for certain- it has to be about *teens*. And not just people that start out as teens and then grow up, like in Assassin’s Apprentice, the protagonist should start and end a teenager for it to really fit in this category.

And I say category, because as Alexa Donne points out in her very comprehensive video on the topic, it’s more of a marketing category than a genre. Which means: anything goes. It’s the wild-west of the publishing industry these days (that ironically doesn’t put out many westerns 😉 )

Because of all this, there have been many instances of missmarketing. I could probably fill a post on the books that have somehow ended up in this category, even though they don’t belong, but here’s just a few:

Now, while a little part of me wants to be cynical and say this is a cash grab, the reality is a lot of teens enjoy this content. As a teen, I personally liked reading books that pushed boundaries and explored darker topics. I’d have most likely been insulted if you told me a book like, say the Book Thief, was technically not aimed at me and therefore off limits (and I’d have definitely read it anyway 😉 ).

Perhaps it is a reflection of this that YA has increasingly been exploring taboo topics.  For better or worse, younger readers have access to books with, dare I say, adult content. Books like A Court of Thorns and Roses is a great example of this- because it was written for adults and yet often mistaken for YA (in fact, I have never seen this book in any part of a library or shop that wasn’t the YA section!) Part of this is thanks to the failure of NA taking off (more for the industry than readers). But a larger part seems to be that the question of what’s appropriate for children has blurred beyond recognition- to the point where many can’t see the line between adult and young adult content anymore.

And while it can be a good thing that adults are buying YA- the expanding market means more books, more bookish industries and more opportunities for authors- it also means that they are the ones driving the market in this direction. Sales, after all, dramatically effect which books publishers choose to put out. This raises all sorts of issues- not least the continuing of this *I have no idea what YA even is anymore* trend.

So, with all that’s said and done, is the term becoming defunct? 

Well obviously not. As much as there have been discussions about the YA genre not doing as well last year, I don’t believe this is because the massive market that exists has gone anywhere (I have my own theories). This isn’t me saying it’s “too big to fail”- it’s merely acknowledging the fact that there will always be a market for high stake drama, with teens at the forefront, exploring the world with fresh eyes. And these are all aspects that this “genre” has in spades. It is also why adults and teens alike will continue to gravitate towards YA no matter what name you give it.

That was rather inconclusive. Looks like I did this whole post just to say who gives a monkeys about genre classifications 😉 In all seriousness, what does the term YA mean to you? Are you a fan of YA? Let me know in the comments!

Why I Fell in Love with Contemporary YA

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It’s no secret that I didn’t always love contemporary YA. For a huge part of my childhood and teens, it was sort of just there. I was much more of a fantasy gal and while I appreciated a good romance, I didn’t think that “good” and “romance” added up to contemporary YA (I know, I had some real genre snobbishness going on). And then, when I went to uni, right at the age when I was supposed to graduate from YA, I started reading more of it when I needed to chill… and that’s when I really discovered how much the genre had to offer- whoops! 😉 Anyway, now that I’m all grown up, I thought it would be fun to share some of the reasons I love the genre. And if it’s not your jam, no doubt this list will provide all the reasons you don’t like it- so if you think about it, this list is for everybody 😉

isla and the happily ever afterThey’re relatable– this is one of the biggest draws for a lot of readers and I know it was for me. I remember the moment when YA contemporary *clicked* for me: it was reading Isla and the Happily Ever After and realising how much I had in common with the main character. While I’d enjoyed Anna and Lola (the first two books in the series), reading Isla was like finding a bookish bestie. And you know what? Ever since that point I’ve regularly found my kindred spirits in books, I’ve related to their circumstances and I’ve realised there’s a lot more to contemporaries than I first thought.

always-and-forever-lara-jean-9781481430487_hrOf course, I also love the romance. Let’s face it, I’ve always been a romance fan- from classics to fantasies, one of the biggest draws for me in books is anything that will make my mushy heart beat. Particularly if it’s super cutesy and adorable- I can’t help myself!! So naturally, I’m drawn to a genre that is centred around the *feels*.

 

serpent kingThey can be SUPER EMOTIONAL in other ways as well– that’s the biggest reason I keep coming back to these books. They make me laugh, cry and everything in between. I thought that contemporary YA was all about the romance for a really long time- not so! They’re often packing a lot more under the surface.

 

list of cagesEspecially cos they’re grounded in real world issues. As tough as it can be to read sometimes, it’s also powerful and necessary sometimes to dip our toes into murkier topics. And contemporaries are an excellent way to do that- they provide a window into the darker parts of life, whilst not losing sight of the light.

 

ps i like youThat’s why contemporary YA can be incredibly fun at the same time. They often have a lightness of touch that may be missing from other genres. When I was younger, I’ll admit, I resisted the charm of a lot of these books, before realising that a little fluff can go a long way. I guess the heart wants what it wants 😉

 

love and gelatoNaturally, for a lot of the above reasons, they make for relaxing reads! It’s not hard to find an easy-read in the contemporary genre, that’s for sure. I started getting into the genre cos I needed to switch off- they may have ended up giving me so much more than that, but they’ve frequently fulfilled that promise as well. A lot of YA contemporaries have a great summer-feel- even if it’s wintry and bleak outside, I can tell you that a lot of the time reading them, I feel like I’m lounging on a hot beach somewhere living the dream 😉

orangutan on a beach relaxing0003

So do you love contemporary YA? Do you agree or disagree with any of my reasons? Let me know in the comments! 

There is always room for lighter books

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A while back I wrote a post about the need for darkness in books. It’s a topic I have a lot of passion for as I’ve always hunger more for edgier reads. Not everyone agrees with me on that front (and that’s fine) so much so that I often see concerted efforts to sanitise books (which is not so fine)- hence my writing the “darkness” piece in the first place. That said, just because I want to preserve the murkier stories doesn’t mean I dislike cheerier works. In fact, I think the more the merrier! So let’s get into why lighter books are awesome:

laughter is the best medicineLaughter is the best medicine– yes, it may be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. In fact, one of my motivating factors to get this blog started was to have a laugh (sometimes at a book’s expense 😉 ). In all seriousness, I started this blog to revel in the JOY of reading and, as many of you can probably tell from my blog name, I was hugely inspired by Pratchett- the comic-fantasy master- and I certainly don’t read his work to be miserable 😉

otters holding handsAnd don’t we want to bask in some positivity from time to time? You know you do- I see you checking out puppy pics on twitter and sharing pictures of otters holding hands and enjoying the rare occasion when there’s a happy news story on TV. There’s a reason cat videos took off on youtube- cos cats are awesome and SECRETLY TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD ;). *Ahem*- just kidding- it’s because there’s a market for it.

dragon gifPlus, books aren’t just supposed to be about reality- they’re for escapism. Reading books is like hopping on a dragon to another world and taking a break from our lives. Given how dark everything can be nowadays, it can be a relief.

chill slothAt the same time, joyful books can be very real. Not everything has to be doom and gloom (I know, shocker, the real world is not so scary- at least not all the time 😉 ). Sometimes it’s nice to just chill out and think of the happier side of life.

 

because i'm happyAnd it’s not like whether a book is light or dark speaks to its quality. I’ve read my share of melodramatic bilge; I’ve also read my fair amount of delectable fluff. Whether it’s romantic or humorous or simply informative- a book doesn’t have to be grim in order to be brilliant. Even going by my ratings (and as I said earlier I lean more towards the dark side) I give out more than enough bananas for books that bring me pure pleasure.

Plus- and I’m gonna be brutally honest here- the idea you have to suffer for your art is pretty toxic. I have unfortunately met people in real life that think they have to be miserable for the sake of art. Now, do not misunderstand me: I think it’s really important people write from experience and are not guilted out of it AND I also believe people should let their imaginations run wild if they want to write something darker that they haven’t experienced. BUT I also feel like if you haven’t had the experience to write tastesomething messed up, you should know that you don’t have to put yourself through the wringer in order to be successful. Aside from the fact I’m a firm believer that everyone has something to draw on, my response to people struggling with this myth is consider writing something happy. To end on a similar note as my darkness in books piece: it’s all about balance and taste. There is no right or wrong here. The truth is, there’s space for sweet, salty and maybe even a little spice. Whatever flavour you choose is upto you 😉 And really, there’s no reason we can’t all be satisfied…

form50022

So do you agree or disagree with me here? And do you have a particular preference for dark or light books? Let me know in the comments!

STRONG female characters, Mary Sues and Manic Pixie Dream Girls… What the Heck is up with Female Characters in Books!?

thoughts orangutan

Hello all! So as you guys may know I was reading Kingdom of Ash recently. As the final book in a l-o-n-g series, you’d expect there to be some changes from the original works, and that’s fair enough. But there was one tiny issue that bugged me: most of the female characters had become warriors (though #notall). Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good kickass heroine and I didn’t by any stretch of the imagination dislike this book. Yet there were two things that struck me with this decision: a) Celaena, as she was originally known, stood out less than she had in previous books (where she’d been an exception to the rule in a world where there seemed to be few female fighters) and b) it kind of leans in to the idea that women *have to* be more masculine in order to be considered strong women.

Time and again, I’m finding that female characters are being type cast into the “strong” role of warrior. And it doesn’t seem to just be one character- it’s got to be the bulk of them. Regardless of whether the author wants to dress up this character in girly clothes and makeup, I don’t think there’s any denying the fact that their heroism predominately comes from their ability to kick ass and not their penchant for applying lipstick. Often it feels shoehorned in and doesn’t seem to be a necessary part of the character (like Clary in Mortal Instruments, who already had killer powers). It also doesn’t seem to matter if the world obeys the laws of earthly biology or not- it seems to be something we have to accept the predominance of the warrior woman in the large bulk of genre fiction (especially fantasy/sci fi, but even in historical fiction as well). Unfortunately this mentality seems to bleed into real life- I can’t tell you how many times (mostly male/female feminists) have criticised me for not being physically strong. Because, in case you didn’t know, I’m a regular girly monkey who doesn’t have the superhuman ability to kick butt.

orangutan in dress

Guess I’ll just use any excuse to get dressed up 😉

Evidently, I’m not crazy about this trend for many reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Buffy growing up and like the occasional Wonder Woman style heroine. I also think this can really work in the fantasy genre- such as with characters like Nona from Red Sister, who come across as representations of shadow and myth. HOWEVER, I don’t recall it being the case that these were the *main* and *only* kind of female characters. Even when it came to Buffy, there were a bunch of other roles fulfilled by female characters. And thank goodness for that- because Buffy wasn’t the character I gravitated towards anyway! I’ll let you in on a not-so-surreptitiously held secret: I always identified the most with adorkable-brainy-oddball Willow- cos that’s who I found relatable. And this is a bit of a trend for me. While Tamora Pierce is famous for her Lioness character, I fell in love with Daine from Wild Magic. I adored the heroines in books by Eva Ibbotson- who never went raging to war but were fearless nonetheless. And I know that a few of the heroines in Game of Thrones fall into this super strong type- yet I love the series because it plays with every type it introduces and never presents a singular view of people.

A lot of the reasons this arose in the first place was a desire to challenge the status quo, to create something different and be appealing to a wider audience. And yet it’s not relatable; and somehow it has become a type. Regardless of whether they wear dresses or not, this STRONG female character is close to becoming a caricature just like any other irritatingly unrealistic representation. Many might have heard of terms like Mary Sue and Manic Pixie Dream girls getting (over)used all over the internet. What I understand about people that have problems with both of these, is that it’s irritating to see so many poorly conceived female characters. Naturally, these don’t simply apply to female characters- there’s always the people who shout “sexist” first and ask questions later (fyi for all those offended by the term Mary Sue, Marty Stus are a thing as well). And of course sometimes the criticism can be unearned- such as the infamous example of 500 Days of Summer using the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope… when it’s actually a deconstruction of that idea. Also, naturally, as in the case of unfinished or contentious works, these terms can be open to debate (as much as I’d like to insist that Rae from Star Wars is 100% a Mary Sue). So, whether in reading or writing, I think it’s good to be careful how we apply these terms- because boy is it frustrating to see characters reduced to nothing more than a trope.

If I was a lonely voice in the crowd, one could say I was a random butthurt woman (or “wahmen” 😉 ) blowing things out of proportion. Yet, I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks this way. In recent years, I’ve seen amazing articles from fellow readers like the lovely Kelly over at Another Book in the Wall, and videos from the likes of the Authentic Observer and even Jordan Harvey on similar topics. I know there are so many more- so forgive me if I left any obvious ones out. Point is: perhaps the zeitgeist of public opinion is changing. Maybe, just maybe when people were crying out for different types of female characters, they weren’t looking to be type-cast into yet another role. All I have ever wanted in fiction is believable, interesting and realistic characters. Wielding a sword is optional.

lagertha fighting.gif

Hope you didn’t mind my somewhat rambly thoughts- I just wanted to get all this off my chest. What do you think about this trend? How do you like your female characters? Let me know in the comments!