Completely non-WoW post, nothing whatsoever to do with WoW.
A disclaimer, for the short attention span ooh shiny TL;DR audience… in this post, BBB goes bitch, bitch, bitch. I’m still trying to figure out of there was anything of value in this to anyone but me. But what the hell, here goes.
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I like reading science fiction, and I like reading fantasy. I also like detective fiction, superhero comics, military adventure, action adventure, dramas, in fact I like books in quite a few different categories.
If you nodded along with that statement and didn’t see anything wrong with it, than it’s probably just me that has this grumpy old man problem with how I look at things. You’re probably going to think I’m insane. That’s okay, I think the same thing often enough.
See, I like to READ.
What I’m most comfortable reading are books. Books are portable. They don’t take batteries. If I drop one in a puddle, I’m not out a couple hundred bucks; I’m out a book I can pick up again at a local bookstore. I can take the book with me when I eat lunch, and I can leave it in the front seat of my car in the sure and certain knowledge that 99.999% of thieves will not break the windows of my car to steal it.
There is always that 0.001% chance you get a thief that wants to bring a book home to his/her kids; I’m willing to take those odds.
Sometimes the books have pictures, sometimes not. Sometimes the books are fictional, sometimes not.
Regardless, I like to read. Heinlein once wrote that he had it real bad; he’d read the used newspaper that was used to hold fish and chips if nothing else was available. Yeah, I know EXACTLY what he meant.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually become aware that books, those things I enjoy reading, are pre-segregated into categories. Books when they are published are carefully judged by others, and grouped together under category labels.
Sure, that’s obvious. It’s hard to imagine it being any other way. What in the heck can I possibly find in such an innocuous fact to be pissy about?
I’m going to be pissy about categories and segregation in general, but I’m also going to hit up the two biggest boxes that make my flesh writhe.
Science Fiction and Fantasy.
When I was a kid, those were two distinct categories. Science Fiction was one category, and Fantasy was another.
At that point, it was already much too late. The battle, if there ever was one, was long since lost.
What is the Keyser Söze quote? “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
Another applicable quote, often attributed to Edmund Burke; “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Well, in my opinion the greatest disservice ever done to open-minded readers was to allow people to create boxes (categories), assign labels to the boxes, and then judge each book for us, slapping a label on it before cramming them in their box and slamming the lid shut. A place for each book, and each book in it’s own proper place.
I say allow… as in, it had to start sometime, and that was the only time people had a chance to stand up and say, NO! It’s either fiction, or it ain’t. Any other category is subjective, judgmental, and in the eye of the beholder.
But it’s been too late for as long as I’ve been alive. It just took me a long, long time to notice the long term effects.
After that fait accompli, getting books categorized, the mopping up operations got under way, and have never stopped… people passing judgment on which book deserves to go where.
“Is this worthy of being in the fiction section, where serious works by important minds are gathered together? No! Into the Science Fiction box it goes with the other fairy tales and flights of fancy. Just keep that trash away from the serious literary works like The Great Gatsby.”
I did my best to make my point there with a sledge hammer. 🙂
Can you make a point with a blunt object? I’m willing to give it a try. If not, at least I can mangle similes so bad I make ’em cry.
Here’s where I’m coming from with this, and my attitude incorporates elements of “the times, they are a’changing”, grumpy old man get off my lawn type stuff.
First off, I am the ultimate egalitarian. I believe that there is no such thing as someone that is suitable to decide FOR me what I should or should not be allowed to read and consider.
That belief is burned into my bones and blood, and informs everything else about me. Control of knowledge is, in my opinion, a direct attempt to control not just what people think, but HOW they think. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to read, to learn, to consider, and to decide for themselves what they think about anything under the sun.
If you are of the opinion, as so many folks seem to be, that there are some people that just need to be told what to do, that are good for earning a paycheck and not much else, the great unwashed, the lower or middle classes, the cows requiring shephards to point the way, and that above them are the elite thinkers guiding the engine of progress… if you think of people in terms of how productive they are in serving as fuel for the great engine of progress, and once someone is too old or inform to produce, whay are we still feeding them? Well, you’re not going to like me if you meet me, I’ll leave it at that. You don’t want to have me start looking you up and down and begin questioning publicly your ‘right’ to consider yourself one of the elite, let alone pinning you down as to what you provide to society in general, and humanity in particular, that justifies you getting free oxygen. Trust me. If you can judge others as being beneath you, I feel fine in judging YOU. No worries on my conscience at all for ripping you a new one.
Freedom of choice, freedom to accept responsibility for your actions, and freedom to suffer the consequences are also built into my attitudes as well.
All clear? Let’s go.
When I was a child of elementary age, I had available to me one of the greatest gifts possible. I didn’t know enough then to appreciate it fully, not the way I do now. But I had the gift, thanks to some beautiful tax paying citizens, and I used it just the same.
The public middle school I attended in downtown Miami, Florida had a school library. A large school library. A freaking HUGE school library.
In what way am I measuring size? Why, comparatively, of course, the same time honored technique I trust is still in use by boys in locker rooms everywhere.
In my case, I’ve toured some schools and seen some of the libraries in the area here in Minnesota, and they are… well, ludicrous. Pathetic. Mediocre. Miniscule. Marginalized.
The school libraries up here are f’ing shameful. They show all the care, thought and consideration you’d give to what trash can to stick in your second spare bathroom.
“Trash can? Got it, check.”
Same apparent care given to the school libraries.
“Does the school have a library? Room with books in, check!”
Not in my middle school as a child.
The middle school I attended, which as I recall was for 6 – 9th grade students, with High School covering grades 10 – 12, was huge. To handle the population of the middle of Miami, it’s probably not surprising. Massive sports fields, basketball courts, gyms and band rooms and just, holy cow. Big. And the High School! Damn.
We didn’t have cliques, we had the kind of gang wars you see in TV shows and laugh at as being impossible. No, they’re not, not when you get big enough class sizes, thank you. You put enough kids in one place with minimal possible adult supervision, and the Lord of the Flies becomes more than a book on a required reading list somewhere.
Well, along with everything else, the library was also super sized. And, believe it or not, the gangs didn’t often venture into it’s cavernous space. Perhaps they were afraid that the concentrated power of so much knowledge would cause their heads to explode.
I often wondered if it would, actually. Kinda like matter and anti-matter colliding. Gang kids and libraries. Boom!
This school library had an immense fiction section, of which I partook the way a starving man might launch himself at a Ritz cracker being carried off by ants.
I want to note here; a fiction section. Not a science fiction section, or a fantasy section, or a romance section or military or Judy Bloom style episodic or whatever.
Just fiction. Everything that wasn’t non-fiction went HERE in this big section of stacks.
Omigod, how the hell did anyone ever find something to read? I know, right? It must have been impossible to actually find a book in there!
Amazingly enough, I was able to find books. Granted, I did not know what pre-assigned categories the secret masters of the universe had previously assigned them to; I had to wing it, and pick stuff to read based on how their book jacket blurbs sounded. Sometimes, I went nuts and picked based on cover illustration.
Here’s the crazy part; I found out that there was no direct corrolation between the quality of cover art, and the quality of the written word within the pages. Holy shit, huh? You’da thunk the books with the best art on the cover would be the best, wouldn’t you?
Moving on, I didn’t browse the science fiction section looking for something suitably appropriate for my interests, as predetermined by someone that knows what’s best for me.
I also didn’t read books pre-judged as being suitable for my age.
Everything was there, apparently bought by the pound. Heinlein and Asimov and Bradbury and the masters of the Golden Age of science fiction, shoulder to shoulder with Tolkein and Chandler and Asprin and, oh heck, you name it.
I was a damn kid, I didn’t KNOW what my interests were yet. I just knew I wanted something to READ. And I had this gift given to me… no guidance. No “this is appropriate for your age, try this and see if it’s too difficult”.
Nope, just a big pile o’ books.
I was hunting for something cool and exciting, preferrably, but knowing something new wasn’t to be scoffed at, as long as it wasn’t boring.
I read a ton of stuff. I swept the library, and from there moved on to the public library that DID have sections and categories, but they were very tentative.
At that age I made a horrible mistake that I’ve carried with me the rest of my life. I paid little to no attention to the names of the authors or titles of the books I was reading. I just read everything, voraciously.
This has since bit me on the ass endless times over the decades, as I will see a book, read the cover blurb, think it sounds interesting, and take it home. About halfway through, it will occur to me that this story, these characters, this entire book seems suspiciously familiar.
Deja Vu? No, just a book I’ve read before without noting author or title, and now have read half of again without even bloody knowing it.
During that period in the school library, I found out that I wasn’t a science fiction reader, or a fantasy reader, or a detective fiction reader, or someone who likes westerns, or a historical romance reader, or any other carefully crafted pigeonhole to help the secret masters of the universe put me in my proper place.
Nope! I’m just someone who likes a well written book regardless of where the story may be set.
I didn’t set limits on what I allowed myself to read, and nobody else had set those limits FOR me.
One of the books there was the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson, and let me tell you something, if you think that a 12 year old can’t read something meant for adults and get an education, you’re crazy.
For one thing, it actually gave me some idea of how crazy you older idiots were in the sixties. Funny how that stuff kinda got buried and passed over in hostory class, as if the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis and the JFK assassination were the only topics worth knowing, and everyone walked aruond in suit and tie and were sober and sophisticated. Yeah, right!
Stoner hippies were an eye opener. Hi mom! I understand everything a LOT better now, thanks.
I’m going to ramble on further for quite a bit now, but I really wanted to get that point down, because it’s important to me.
I know for a fact that because there WAS no structure or classification to the fiction section of that library, I read and enjoyed books, was deeply enriched by books, and had my horizons expanded by books that I never would have read if there had been a “Science Fiction” section, or a “Fantasy” section, or a “clones of the Lord of the Rings” section.
It was a rude awakening when I went into a public library looking for books, and found out that there was a single “science fiction/fantasy” section to cram all those books into.
I still remember, and this goes back thirty years now, I remember that moment at ten or eleven when I looked around and thought, “What moron thinks science fiction is the same as fantasy, and lumped them both together like this? Wow, they don’t have a clue.”
It took a long time to really come to grips with the idea that some folks actually feel challenged by having any other style of writing given official recognition. That there is a self-styled elite class of literary snobs out there that want to keep ‘populist trash’ from being classes alongside their favorites.
As I said, egalitarian. Thinking like that doesn’t come naturally.
There are people out there that know that they know better than you or I. That think that they ARE better than you. Better than me. Better than all of us unwashed swine reading our populist trash.
“Populist trash” does say it all, doesn’t it? The opiate of the masses. Those things we use to distract us from the pathetic meanness of our little lives. The things we read that are barely one step up from TV.
Do I really need to say more?
Categories do serve a purpose… in the exact same way stereotypes do. They allow us to make surface judgments about something without taking the time to THINK, or take a risk and spend some time to find out more for ourselves.
Oh look, a republican, a democrat, a conservative, a liberal, a green energy wacko, an NRA gun nut, a blue collar worker, a politician, an executive, a banker, a high school dropout, a biker, a nerd, a geek, a goth, an emo, a jock, a stoner, a tofu-eating pillow-biting kool-aid drinking Obama supporter.
Labels. Stereotypes. A simple grouping of words meant to take the totality of all that a person is, and dismiss ALL of it in one shot. To dismiss THEM, make them irrelevant, their opinions, their dreams, their hopes and their goals, flush them all and cram them into a box.
It’s the same thing with books. You take a book, slap a “Science Fiction” label on it, and dismiss it. It’s just science fiction, after all. No actual thought went into it. Populist trash.
You think I’m overstating things?
Maybe I am at that.
But I’d like you to take a little time, and think about your own experiences in book stores or libraries.
Have you ever known you liked the writing of a particular author, and went looking for it, only to find it in not one, but multiple areas?
Take John Ringo for example. He wrote some books that were categorised as science fiction. So, they got slapped with the sci fi label and shoved into the sci fi library stacks.
But then he wrote some military adventure fiction. Not a single science fiction aspect to it at all.
You go looking for those books, and half the time you’ll find some are in the science fiction section, because he’s a “science fiction writer”. He was tagged and bagged, and so that’s where his books get shoved. Not all of them, clearly not everyone is with the program.
And that’s what makes it really stand out. It’s not consistent. It’s each book, or each author, getting judged and then dismissed.
Take another example, Dean Koontz.
When Dean Koontz books were first published, they were categorized as “Horror”. Stephen King, too. And Straub, and others.
Dean Koontz is a great example, though, because although his books all hold some element of the fantastic, the amazing, the supernatural, they are a far cry from “Horror”.
Suspenseful, sure. Surprising? Certainly. More fantasy or speculative or thoughtful, in my opinion.
But they’re also one other thing.
Almost all of his books culimate in inspirational endings, as in “leave you feeling good, with thoughts of a positive nature”.
Yes, there may be suspense, surprise and fear along the way, but I’m having a hard damn time thinking of a single Dean Koontz book that had an ‘unhappy’ ending.
Dragon Eyes was one of the most intense books in my opinion, with a truly terrifying opponent, but even that book was a triumph of compassion and order winning over chaos and evil.
But you look in a library and see where Dean Koontz can be found. Some of it is in the fiction section, and some of it is still in horror, if there still IS a horror section. I think that the popularity of Stephen King actually helped to kill the Horror category over the last few decades.
It’s still there to be found, though. “Is my Raymond Chandler book in the mystery section, or the fiction section at this library? What did the judgmental folks decide here?”
Lee Child is another one. Adventure fiction, hugely enjoyable books. I’ve seen them both in fiction, and in mystery. Likewise with Ian Rankin.
Lawrence Block seems to be nailed down in the mystery section, although I’ll be damned if I can understand how his Matthew Scudder books are somehow less ‘fiction’ than Lee Child.
There is one other aspect to categories I swear I’ve noticed, and I really don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg.
When I started reading books that were science fiction, the books were fiction first and foremost, and the science part meant they looked with keen analysis on the world we live in, and took serious looks at the underpinnings of everything.
A book could be considered science fiction if it was about exploring alternate, currently non-existing forms of government. Political science was enough science, when looked at speculatively, to be science fiction. It didn’t have to have rayguns and flying saucers.
Emotions, relationships, alien reproduction as a metaphor for human sexual mores and cultural attitudes, it was all fair game to be written about, and called science fiction.
It almost feels like, at some point writers began writing TO the stereotypes and categories.
As though the success of a series like “The Lord of the Rings” brought respectability, and that encouraged writers to follow in the same mold.
Or “Star Wars” and writers of science fiction.
To what degree does the existence of a category and a stereotype about that category encourage people to write FOR that category, trying to be included?
Do mystery authors try to write in a formulaic way so their book qualifies to be labeled a ‘mystery’?
I told you this was a cranky old man post. I have no wonderful new ideas.
Categories are here to stay. That war was lost before it ever started. Who chooses categories? Who judges books?
I’m sure things have rolled along to through the generation to the point that the original elitist snarks are long gone, and most people who are in the position to make those choices are in that field because they love it, love books, and would never think of having some secret, machiavellian plot in mind to marginalize the books they don’t like by sticking them safely in a category.
It’s just the way it’s done.
I do think about that kid I was, and wonder what my worldview and understanding of things would be like if I’d just been restricted to Judy Blume, the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mysteries, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.
Hmm, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. Hell, I loved that series, come to think of it. I wonder if I can find that set for Alex to read someday?