a. I can’t do a Links of Interest section since I nuked my Google reader, but I will mention the contest I am running — the winner may choose any two books from those listed.
b. Also, on the subject of book bloggers and conferences, I discovered –or rather, Kristin of Fantasy Cafe discovered and told me about – a new one, the Book Blogger Convention, May 28 in NYC, which overlaps with the Book Expo America.
The Keynote One featured speaker is Ron Hogan, speaking on Professionalism and Ethics in Blogging (EDITED TO ADD: thanks to Natasha from Maw Books setting me straight on that. Keynote TBA). I confess I don’t know anything about Ron Hogan, but I see that Thea of The Book Smugglers is on a panel about Marketing, and Mandi of Smexy Books is on the list of attendees. Looking around the BEA website, it looks to me like it’s for industry professionals — authors and editors and the like. The Book Blogger Convention has affiliated with BEA, and is offering admission to BEA with your BBC badge. You can enter a contest for free admission to the Book Blogger Con — contest ends Friday. It goes without saying that I am thinking about going.
EDITED TO ADD: Katiebabs had a long, informative post about these events, based on insider knowledge and her attendance in 2009. Sorry I did not see it the first time.
c. I was really shocked to read author Laura Kinsale’s comment on Dear Author’s conversational review of her new book, Lessons in French (which I still haven’t read). In response to a reviewer’s (and some responders’) comment that the book was “melancholy”, Kinsale wrote “Piffle Diffle” and “Just. No.” and “I draw the line at melancholy”.
I’d like to say something about this, because she made a similar comment here, and I find these sorts of comment potentially chilling of the kind of discussion readers must have if fiction is to flourish in a society (note that “potentially” is a pretty generous way to interpret the intentions of someone who basically tells people to cut it out). Authors don’t get to tell readers how to experience their books, and that is what one is doing, even when one adds “winks” and jokey asides to one’s comment. An author can say “Huh. I am really surprised you experienced the book as melancholy because that was not my intention while writing it”. Or — and I know it sounds crazy — but one might even consider saying something like, “Huh. Maybe I didn’t write as clearly as I wanted to, if so many experienced genre readers and thoughtful people failed to hear the tone I was going for.” (I do this if a majority of my students get a quiz question wrong. I assume the fault is mine, in the way I worded it.). But telling a reader “Just. No.” and then pointing out that other (Presumably better? More careful? Smarter?) readers read it the way the author intended in order to buttress one’s view is, as she herself put it, “an author behaving badly”.
Romance readers are not passive automatons, thoughtlessly imbibing authors’ words. Reading is an interaction between reader and text, and it is unique every time. The relationship that is forged between the author and the reader requires respect on both sides. The reviewers of Lessons in French demonstrated that respect by carefully reading the text and engaging in thoughtful dialogue with others about it. If only the author had done the same.
a. My work situation: Still confusing. No one knows what the hell is going on, although some signs have me thinking positively. But I found out something good: Tenured faculty get severance pay for 18 months if let go (clearly, I have never read my contract in all these years. What a revelation!). What this means is that I do not have to job hunt right this minute. So that’s something to be not unhappy about.
b. My husband’s promotion to full professor became official this morning. He is such a hot ticket, that guy. He was tenured and promoted to associate prof a mere 24 months before he submitted his documents for full. I love you and am so proud of you! We are having a BIG PARTY!!!
3. Summary and discussion of “The Paradox of Junk fiction” Noel Carroll, Philosophy and Literature, 18(2), 1994 (p. 225-241)
“The Paradox of Junk Fiction” is an essay by Noel Carroll, a very well known philosopher of fiction and film. He defines “junk fiction” as, basically, genre fiction with “extremely limited repertoire of story types”. Examples include Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, and Agatha Christie. With junk fiction “we read for story.” Junk fictions tell the same story over and over again, says Carroll, with “minor variations”. Junk fiction readers read these variations against a “well-established background of narrative forms.” The reader “knows in some sense how the story is going to go”. He writes, “If you have read one Harlequin romance, it might be argued, you have read them all. You know how it will turn out.”
(By the way, the term “junk fiction” refers to Thomas Roberts’, An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction, which I am about to read. According to Carroll, Roberts addresses a slightly different question, namely how genre readers can speak so ill of the books they love.)
So, the paradox is that people read junk fiction for the story, for the “page turning” aspect. But these readers know antecedently how the story will turn out. What to do?
Carroll rejects pretty much outright the first option, which we can call “biting the bullet”. That is, accepting the paradox as it stands and admitting that, yup, we are irrational. For example, you could take a Freudian approach and say junk fiction operates to meet some unconscious need, either wish fulfillment (he cites romance here) or manifesting deep anxieties (horror). My problems with such Freudian interpetations are their (a) inability to be disproven, and (b) tendency to make readers passive. So I agree with Carroll here.
Another possibility is offered by Roberts, who says that junk fiction is genre reading and genre reading is system reading, it is intertextual. Reading individual stories may be simple, but the system is complex. What interests genre readers are “convergences, contrasts and extensions” in story type. It;s the fine grained appreciation of difference genre readers seek (that the apparent heroine is killed off early on in Psycho, for example, is even more enjoyably shocking to those versed in horror, because they know it is not supposed to happen).
Carroll admits that most fans read “comparatively” in a genre, but he denies that this is the core element of junk fiction reading. Many junk fiction readers just read for story, and they don’t perform these fine grained comparison. (for example, when I chatted with a bank teller about JR Ward. she doesn’t know JR Ward wrote any other books besides the one she’s now reading, never mind the subgenre paranormal romance. so, while I am very attracted to Roberts’ theory for other reasons, I don’t think he has described all genre readers.)
But Carroll appreciates that Roberts may be on to something: maybe readers of junk fiction get other kinds of enjoyment besides narrative enjoyment out of their stories. For example, the enjoyment of “readerly activities of interpretation and inference”. And guess what genre he uses as an example here? Romance! I almost passed out when I saw that. Carroll cites Betty Neels’ The Quiet Professor. Click on the passage below to enlarge:
Junk fiction engages the reader in a “transactional process”. As readers, we enjoy “self rewarding cognitive activity”. Readers also derive pleasure or satisfaction from a range of moral and emotional activities and judgments they make as they read.
Carroll pauses for a minute to distinguish his preferred resolution to the cultural studies’ solution of “recoding and rereading” texts. That is, readers of junk fiction don’t really read for the story the author is telling, rather they read for their own recoded version. Romance readers who read JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood as a love story between Butch and Vishous might count as recoders in this sense. But the classic example is the one Carroll uses — native peoples cheering when the white man gets killed in a western. Carroll reject this idea: he thinks lefty cultural studies folks overstate drastically the amount of resistant reading that actually occurs. And he thinks it’s better on philosophical grounds to dissolve the paradox of junk fiction using readers that are not arbitrary, but actually “proposed by the text in a structured way” (he really reveals his hand when he suggests recodings are arbitrary. I doubt they are.).
Next Carroll responds to the objection that ALL reading, even of what he calls “ambitious fiction*” (i.e. literature) is cognitively, emotionally, and morally challenging in the way junk fiction is. Carroll admits it — such fictions may even “stimulate more readerly activities” than junk fiction. “Ambitious fictions” may be more consuming, and there may be a continuum of engagement required (after all, genre fiction is meant to be easily and quickly read. But we are not to confuse this with the claim that junk fiction readers are passive. they aren’t and they can;t be, if Carroll’s proposed solution is to work), but it’s all of a piece. nevertheless, this is not a problem for his argument, he says, because all he is trying to do is dissolve the paradox of junk fiction.
[*Carroll's term "ambitious fiction" is not a helpful descriptor of non junk-fiction. I'm betting he was looking for a word for literary or modern fiction that doesn't diminish junk fiction. First of all, the jig was up when he adopted the term "junk fiction". but second, "ambition" fails utterly to distinguish literature and genre writers, since they are all about the most ambitious people you could hope to meet. The only way "ambitious" distinguishes the two kinds of writing is if you implicitly smuggle in extra words like "ambitious to write a great novel", but you're back where you started. ]
So, to recap, a paradox occurs when two incompatible statements both seem true. In this case, it’s:
1. Junk fiction readers read for story, and if knowing the story they will lose interest in it.
2. Junk fiction readers are genre readers. Genre is formulaic, so junk fiction readers already know the story.
Carroll proposes to reject (1) as false, dissolving the paradox.
Does anyone sle see a problem with defining junk fiction as “fiction you read for story” and then arguing that “junk fiction readers don’t really read for story: they read for cognitive, emotional, and moral engagement”?
Personally, while I agree that genre fiction readers read for both story and for the other readerly activities Carroll lists, as well as for the comparative activities Roberts mentions, I would jettison #2. We don’t know the story.
What do you think?