Genre prejudice

Roger Burton West roger at firedrake.org
Tue Jul 15 18:04:19 EDT 2003


On Tue, Jul 15, 2003 at 10:42:29PM +0100, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:
>What is the shame in reading for pleasure, and why is it somehow admirable
>to read what one does not find pleasurable and only ploughs through out of
>some sort of sense of duty -- and to whom is the perceived duty, and how
>does it arise, and why do more people not do as my friend did, fling the
>thing from them and simply *stop*?  Particularly if there is no reason to
>suppose that the end of the book will be in any way a conclusion, so one
>might just as well abandon it at any point?

I think that a lot of it, at least in my experience, is peer pressure.
If most of the people one knows and talks with read the same papers as
one does oneself, there's likely to be an automatic group consensus on
what the current "important books" are - even though this is only
because a critic or two has said "this book is important" (or
"controversial", even better). Each person in the group has a feeling
that everyone else has probably read it and enjoyed it already, so he
really ought to catch up; and anyone expressing a contrary view is
risking rejection by the group.

It's just the same as a group of lads in a pub, when nobody really wants
another drink but nobody wants to look like a wimp by being the first to
turn it down.

Separate but related to this is the feeling of authority: "critic X said
this was a good book, so if I don't enjoy it the fault is in me".
Sometimes this can even be true; though I haven't yet found a critic
with whom I agree on everything, I know that if Dave Langford recommends
something I'm more likely to persist with it than I should be otherwise.
But that's because experience has told me that Langford's
recommendations are often better than they seem half-way through.

This group pressure and acceptance of authority's opinion is not of 
course confined to the "mainstream literary fiction" genre. An SF book
that various of my friends have been talking about recently is Richard
Morgan's _Altered Carbon_: and it has its moments, but mostly I found it
without merit, the sort of thing someone would produce if he'd heard
about SF (particularly William Gibson) but never actually read very much
and thus realised how well-worn some of his paths were, or that long
pages of exposition aren't actually considered a good idea any more even
if you _do_ think you're terribly clever for having come up with the
idea. And when I mentioned this to my friends, they started to say 
"well, yes, actually, chapters of detailed torture aren't really my 
thing"... but someone had to come out and _say_ it first.

Roger
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