Conquering Genrephobia

If you’ve been in a book group for long, you know what I mean: a title suggested from outside the group’s usual boundaries, especially if that title comes from the ghetto of genres that some view as “lesser” reading, may cause genrephobes in the group to react as if someone replaced the wine and cheese with rotgut and Velveeta.

That’s a shame. Real readers know that these genres–in particular I’m referring to fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, “women’s” fiction, and romances–have just as many gems sown in with the dirt clods as any other subset of literature. So if you’re a fan of these genres, or if you just want your group to expand its horizons a little, how can you get them to give these books a fair chance?

There are no easy answers, but here are five ideas to get you started:

1) Enthusiasm Is Contagious

If you’re a fan of a particular genre, don’t be afraid to praise it in front of other readers. Stigma against “lesser” books has been on the wane for over a century, but it’s a stubborn beast to kill. Sometimes all your friends will need is for someone else to admit in public that they love these books too.

2) Avoid Taboo Genre Words

Instead of saying “science fiction” say “near future thriller” or “space noir” or “anthropological puzzler.” Instead of “thriller,” say “action-driven drama.” If your friends aren’t ready to admit they like fantasy, approach the book as alternate history.

3) Focus on Discussability

The real key for groups is whether or not the book will generate good discussion. Emphasize the quality of characterization, the presence of interesting ideas, or the realism of dilemmas and conflicts that the author presents.

4) Minimize the Commitment

To lure readers, you’ll have better luck with shorter, standalone books by new authors instead of doorstops, series starters, or authors whose shelves overflow in an intimidating way.

5) Reduce Reader Awkwardness

Look at the cover of the book you want to suggest. Would a non-genre reader be embarassed to read it in public? Shame about reading certain genres, whether or not it’s well founded, becomes worse when broadcast to the world by the cover. Now try the first page. Is it full of unpronounceable character and place names? First impressions can mean everything. Find the genre titles with milder covers and first pages that won’t produce nervous giggles.

There are great books being promoted to groups, but you’re missing some of the best writers working today if you limit yourself to “book group” books. Find the right entry point and join the rest of us in reading genre literature. It’s more than a guilty pleasure.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On... Fantasy Fiction and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups.

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