Friday, April 15, 2011

Accidental Produndity 2: Bookstore Closings

It was in some book about Neil Gaiman in which he said that it seemed bizarre to him that the ghost stories of Dickens should be in the LITERATURE section of a bookstore while the ghost stories of most contemporary authors (whose names I don't know) are consigned to the horror section. I might add that I find it bizarre that the willfully-ghosty Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger made it to FICTION.

Her science fiction book's movie's poster

Michael Chabon has, as an author who has migrated from "naturalistic fiction"--stories about divorce, homosexuality, drug abuse, the death of a loved one... divorce--to a writer of "genre fiction" (which is a story about a detective or a 10th century mercenary or a comic book artist, etc. dealing with divorce, homosexuality...) said in his interview with the AV Club, "when these labels are used to prevent discussion, to prevent a work from being taken seriously, on its own terms as literature, because of how it came packaged, that's what bothers me."

We can tell you where your book belongs.

That marketing is what bookstores use to tell you what you're reading. You like stories of people in love? Here's ROMANCE. Comic books? GRAPHIC NOVELS. Actual novels? FICTION. Never you mind that Pride and Prejudice is a romance, that Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Boy on Earth has nothing to do with Superman, that Pulitzer Prize winners are regularly left out of FICTION. Each has its proper, arbitrary place.

Until the ship starts to sink.

Borders is, largely, going out of business. Small wonder, really. There are so many books in the world, I sometimes wonder whether we need to actually reprint so many. Seriously, people, check out a used book store.

You can find something in there you want.

I stopped by a closing Borders on the way home today and found the most bizarre thing: ASTROLOGY mingling with wedding planning guides, FICTION cavorting with ROMANCE, RELIGION and SCIENCE frolicking on the half-priced shelves (it was actually the shelves they were selling).

In In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch discusses how changing about one gene makes a human into a monkey; moving one scene of a film turns a comedy into a tragedy. Likewise, consider how unified knowledge is: Astrology is superstition, but how much hokum is in your average wedding?

Rice doesn't make this happen

FICTION and ROMANCE? Harper Lee thought To Kill a Mockingbird was a simple love story. I purposed to my wife with a soap carving and some chewing gum in a knothole.

RELIGION and SCIENCE? Science is magic explained. Magic is science understood. Both go well with guacamole.

So does everything else.

I think about how we've compartmentalized thought into a bento box of consciousness and realize Chabon was right: it's all about marketing. Capitalism determines what goes where, since it's all about consumption, and labels are the easy way to make something consumable; they are the sugary BBQ sauce of literature.

Make that a mental image. I already have 4 pics in this post.

Sure, the system is capitalist, but what if you were to step outside the system? What if you thought for yourself? Certainly, as Chabon points out, genre is workable. It's not bad to say a book is a fantasy story, but it's bad to say it's "only" a fantasy story. Capitalism reduces things to their most cursory parts, while true appreciation for art (a political stance in and of itself) uses genre as a way to free art.

The best way to do this is to read in a sense that doesn't vote with the dollar, but with the mind. Check out that used book store I mentioned earlier or even (hold on tight, I'm about to blow your mind) the library you've already paid to use! Reward people who want what we have and let the chain bookstores know we don't need to be told what to want.

If we do that, we will read better, think better and live better and maybe, someday, we can get those labels down to FICTION and NON-FICTION... and then start thinking about how gray those terms are.

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