By Mary Kelly
When I first started out as a student, I thought my taste should gravitate to the “serious” and “important” works of literature. I kind of wanted to be that person that read Kafka or Joyce on the train or went to a poetry reading. I even wanted to wear a beret. I was hoping that I would be considered a “deep thinker” and an “intellectual” reader. I guess I wanted to be the early 1980s version of Rory Gilmore. No one needed to know that although I read widely on occasion (and sometimes with a gun to my head), I secretly loved books by the likes of Erica Jong, Jacqueline Susanne, and Sydney Sheldon. If it had a wild plot, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, I was a fan. I could chew these books up like candy. It was my secret shame reading list.
Genre fiction, particularly romance, is considered among the sophisticated readers as “less than”. Serious fiction is considered superior and appropriate. Although more of us “shame readers” are coming clean with our outright love of genre fiction, there is still a serious bias against the literary value of these works. As a librarian, I often see this among parents who are trying to sell their children on the merits of classic fiction when clearly the child wants a Captain Underpants book. Every time I witness these discussions, a little piece of me dies as I know this child will think that books (and libraries) will be about as fun as reading a cell phone service agreement.
For adults, this bias can show up from time to time. I will have a patron either whisper in shame about wanting a “bodice ripper” or the most violent horror novel I can find. They often follow up with an explanation that they usually read “important” works. I am guessing that maybe this patron had an English teacher, librarian or parent that made a stray comment about certain materials as “junk” or without any literary merit. No one should ever be made to feel shame about their own particular tastes in reading. No one should also have to defend their choice to a librarian.
Recently, a patron wanted help in suggesting a romance title. I got the feeling she was sure librarians did not “like” trashy romance novels. When I shared my excitement for contemporary romance with this patron, it sparked many discussions of authors and books. Once she felt comfortable with her love of romance, she asked me to be her personal “smut consultant”. Of course, I agreed and look forward to more patron interaction with her about romance novels.
Even if genre fiction isn’t your particular cup of tea, it is important that you still show enthusiasm for any choice. No librarian can know everything about every book in the library, but you can know what your fellow librarians love. I am not as up on graphic novels or horror, but I do know many librarians that do love it. Don’t hesitate to rope them in on this discussion. Remember the job of the librarian is to provide the connection to information, not just a book. It is time to drop the shame reading list and embrace your inner pop fiction reader.
Here are some recent titles from Thorndike for the romance junkie: