And it’s only Tuesday. Even though I’ve been keeping my head down in an attempt to finish getting Jaguar Bound ready for release, the ripples in the universe became so strong, I had to find out what was going on. Imagine my surprise (well, not really) to find an article in GQ castigating guys because they aren’t reading the “right” type of novels. Then there’s the debacle that happened over the weekend regarding Mercedes Lackey. In other words, life as usual in the world of publishing.
I’ll admit, the first I heard about the GQ article was a FB post by Larry Correia. Then I saw the article mentioned on The Passive Voice. You know I had to check it out and the snark poured out. I couldn’t help it.
The first indication this would be an article rife for snarking comes with part of the title. I mean, how can you ignore the possibilities when the second part is, “why men need to read more novels”?
From the beginning, you can hear the sneer in the author’s voice as she describes checking out “the tomes” on the boyfriend’s e-reader. Gasp, he’s got science fiction, politics and a combination of the two. The horror, the disappointment. When he “wrinkles his nose” to see her reading Jane Austen and say “it’s all chitter-chatter” you can almost see her withdrawing in horror as he “hunkers down” with his choice of reading material.
From that first paragraph, you see the author, Ash Sarkar, turning their nose up in the air about his choice of reading. You see, he doesn’t like literary fiction despite the fact he’s is an enlightened being.
It’s not that he’s a protein-powder-where-a-brain-should-be bro. Indeed, he bears all the hallmarks of a fully reconstructed man: NTS on the radio, bell hooks on the shelf, a yoga membership used at least thrice-weekly. But literary fiction, as opposed to non-fiction, history, or sci-fi, just doesn’t interest him. Why prod the nooks and crannies of the human heart, when you can terraform planets, or dig into the CIA’s murky psy-ops in Indonesia?
Boo-hoo, only about 20% of the literary fiction audience is male. Whatever are we going to do to save civilization if the rest of the world, and soooo many evil men, are reading dreck that interests and entertains them?
Part of this may be down to the changing landscape of authors themselves. In 2000, men made up 61% of the UK’s top selling hardbacks. By 2020, this number fell to 43%. Where straight white men used to dominate bestseller charts and prize shortlists, now it is people of colour, LGBT people and women who are both at the avant-garde of writing and driving sales in stores.
And we all know those best seller lists are never, ever manipulated and publishers only buy books they think readers want to read. Let’s forget about all the small press and indie authors out there who are making good livings writing anything but literary fiction. Then there’s the little issue of bookstores no longer being the main way folks buy their books. Ebooks, audio books, subscription services, Amazon and other online retailers all have an impact on the sales the article’s author seems to value so much.
I could go on. Read the article for yourself. It is a flawed article that basically comes down to two misconceptions, imo. The first is that literary fiction sells more and is more important to the average reader (you know, the one who actually buys books ad reads them) than it really is. The second is that women read for different reasons than men. This is the sort of absolute statement that drives me up a wall. For one, I might be reading for enjoyment and escapism or I might be reading to learn something. I might be reading as background for a post here or over at Victory Girls.
And guess what, that’s how it is for most folks, be thy male or female. Having spent several hours the other day talking books with my son, I know for a fact he reads. More than that, he is broadly read. But, like me, he doesn’t want to be bored when he reads. Even if he is reading to for education purposes, the text doesn’t need to be so boring he falls asleep. Guess I raised him wrong because he also doesn’t need to read a book to be able to understand people. He does that by observation, conversation and engaging.
And there’s not a copy of Mansfield Park or Little Women or modern literary fiction in sight.
Maybe the problem isn’t that women have come to dominate the fields traditionally occupied by men, but that men don’t really want to think about how economic conditions and changing cultural values have made them more like women. . . women don’t just read novels to understand ourselves: we read them to understand each other. Literary fiction is how we can study human frailty, making the world of feelings, friendship, love, personal dilemma, rivalry, money and psychology rich terrain for exploration.
Nope, nope, nope. There is one very major issue with this statement, especially the last sentence. It assumes the person writing the literary fiction does so without their own biases in play. It assumes the women reading it can’t figure out how to understand other women without having the playbook put out by some publisher that explains the world to them.
And where in all that is the entertainment factor? This is fiction. FICTION. Most people picking up a novel are doing so to escape from the cares of the world for a few minutes or a few hours.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get my gist.
As for the other disturbance in the publishing force, all you have to do is go onto Twitter or Facebook or other social media platforms and do a search for Mercedes Lackey. Seems she offended some people by calling fellow writer Chip Delaney a “colored writer”. She did so in a way that was not meant to be demeaning. The moderator of the panel she was on at the time did nothing to deal with the hurt feelings of some of those in attendance. Delany himself later said he was not offended. But SFWA, reacting in typical knee-jerk fashion, decided to kick Lackey and her husband, Larry Dixon, out of the con. It did so without (as far as I have been able to tell) the chance to explain why she said what she did or even giving her the chance to apologize. What’s worse, Dixon wasn’t on the panel and, iirc, not even present at the time the comment was made. But, because he is married to Lackey (I guess), he’s guilty by association so he was kicked out as well.
Full disclosure, I haven’t checked the status of things this morning. While it doesn’t surprise me that this is the action SFWA took–after all, it has proven time and again that it will react to the screeches of outrage without giving the other side the chance to defend itself or even to apologize–it does prove the organization no longer cares about anything except making the person who cries the loudest happy. Yes, it has a code of conduct in place. Technically, the word could be seen as being in violation of it. But are we now to a point where we have to make sure no one is ever upset by anything? Let me tell you something, that is never going to happen.
Frankly, I wouldn’t have given the story a second look if SFWA/the con had 1) talked to Lackey to get her side of the story, 2) given her the chance to apologize to the con and those offended if she felt she had crossed the line and 3) made sure panel moderators knew to deal with any “issue” at the time it happened. But it is #2 that bothers me the most when it comes to a number of comments I’ve seen online. Those condemning Lackey for her used of the term keep doing so because she didn’t apologize. Guess what, folks? She wasn’t given the chance to when it would have made a difference. SFWA made sure of that.
It is a shame. Whether you like her work or not, whether you agree with her politics or not, Lackey has been an important part of the SFF community for years. She wrote stories with gay and divergent main characters long before that became the vogue. The day before all this went down (again, iirc), she was installed as the newest SFF Grand Master. Anyone want to take any bets on whether or not there’s not at least some folks out there now trying to get that honor removed because of her bad speak?
And they wonder why more and more readers are turning to indie and small press published books and why they don’t take organizations like SFWA seriously any longer.