Ghettoizing fiction

or: On Judging Bookstores

Last week, I wrote a post at Silverstring Media about the risk of ghettoizing stories for certain demographics, the risk of (for example) labling a story within a transmedia property as the gay story, and thus a) ensuring no one else will ever experience it, and b) that the driving platform (the mainstream storyline) will not feature the gay character very much.

The ghettoizing of demographics certainly occurs beyond transmedia; it’s a constant scene in bookstores.

My family’s made up mostly of pretty big readers, so trips to the bookstore were fairly common, and they were always fun for me. To go in, browse bookks, pick up a few new ones. Check out old used bookstores. Convince my mom to pay. You know how it is.

Then for a fairly lengthy period, I stopped really wanting to go to bookstores and browse. I have shelves of books that I haven’t read yet, and all through university, my time spent reading was dismally little, so I felt it was a waste of time and money to go to bookstores all the time. I got enough books as gifts that they were already piling higher each year.

Lately, I’ve found joy in it once again. Not because I’m reading once more, which I am, but because I take the opportunity to Do Research.

I walk into a bookstore now, and I begin looking for certain things.

I check out the teen fiction section as research for my career. I look for what books are front and centre, how big the section is (it seems to be growing, but the selection isn’t always there), etc. I usually check out the mythology section (if they have one) to see if there are any more obscure mythologies I’d be interested in (or just more Greco-Roman).

And I look for an LGBT section.

I honestly have somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’ve talked before about the arbitrary and elitist labling of genres in bookstores. (Why is Oryx and Crake in “Fiction” or (worse) “Literature”, and not in “Science Fiction”? Just because Margaret Atwood wrote it? Is she somehow superior, or different, to Heinlein and Asimov and Gibson?) There is this sense of ghettoizing with LGBT books — if they’re not put with the rest of non-LGBT fiction, no one will find or read them unless they’re specifically looking for them. I don’t think most LGBT books would be particularly less appealing to straight readers. I read about straight characters all the time. By restricting those books to their own little shelf, you ghettoize them, removing them from the bulk “mainstream” fiction, keeping them out of sight for those who don’t look for them, as if they’d make people uncomfortable.

On the other hand, I find myself judging bookstores pretty harshly if they don’t have an LGBT section (or, as it’s widely called, a “gay and lesbian” section — because clearly those are the only queer demographics out there…). If I walk into a store and I want to find books about my life, my demographic, I’d like them all to be in one section for easy discovery. Otherwise I might not know that a book has a gay main character or theme, and that’s what I’m looking for.

But then, “gay and lesbian” sections tend to be mostly romance or erotica. Nothing wrong with those, but it comes across like that’s all we’d read. And why aren’t those in the general Romance or Erotica sections?

The ideal, in my mind, would be to have an LGBT section that collects all books with LGBT characters and themes regardless of genre, but then also to put those books in with their respective genres (fiction, romance, sci-fi) to serve both purposes. I know shelf space is hard to get, though, and it would require multiple copies of each book, so I could see that that’s probably not an option for most bookstores.

Ultimately, it’ll be up to someone smarter than me to come up with a solution. But I can make sure we’re at least talking about it.

What are your thoughts? Is there a solution?

3 comments on this post.
  1. dys·func·tion:

    I’d like to see LGBT as a subsection *in* each section. “FICTION” labelled on each shelf to indicate books above, LGBT FICTION labelled on the shelves that include those books, but all in the same aisle. You can find them if you’re specifically looking for them, but fiction readers can also stumble across them.

  2. David A. Bedford:

    The entire over-commercialization of books is the problem. It’s more important to publishers to squeeze every dollar they can from each title by targeted marketing than in making literature of all kinds available. When the business interest is more important than the art, you get trash.

  3. Rethinking The LGBT Book Shelf — Lambda Literary:

    […] honestly have somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’ve talked before about the arbitrary and elitist labeling of genres in […]

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