Saturday, 11 August 2012

Blurred at the edges

Don't mind me, just sneaking in at the back here. Yes, I know it's been nearly a year. Stuff, life, you know. Twitter, mostly. AAaaaaanyway. Excuse hiccups, Blogger changed while I was in my enchanted sleep and now I can't work out how to hyperlink.
Every now and then when I'm not writing about food, booze, or perfume, I write about books. There has been an almighty shriek about the infamous Fifty Shades Of Grey, and don't worry, I have no intention of dedicating a post to it, other people have covered the subject EXHAUSTIVELY. My whole Big Thing Point here is: I think what people are getting upset about at the moment is not anything to do with content, it's how it's presented. People like their genres to be crudely obvious and Fifty Shades confounds them because it's jacketed like "normal fiction" rather than being plastered with fingerwagging Parental Advisory stickers and the mark of the Beast and sold from under the counter. In point of fact it's doubly misleading because while it looks like fiction and is reputed to be terrifying civilisation-destroying porn, it is in fact a poorly-executed and soppy 1980s romance bonkbuster, pretending to be a bit transgressive with some handcuffs.
I just finished reading (and gruesomely enjoying) The Uninvited by Liz Jensen. She writes literary fiction, albeit odd and not entirely real-life, and gets reviewed in the heavyweight papers, Anthony Minghella was producing a film based on one of her books just before he died, etc etc. But if asked to classify what genre it belonged to, I would call it either Horror or Fantasy (caps because that's what we bookselly types do). Both of which are genres the average reader gets quite uneasy around. Ooh, Horror, that's all rats and gratuitous entrails, isn't it? Is Fantasy the one where it's all sodding elves and swords of mystic destiny? Publishers are obviously aware of the ghettoising of genres (I've mentioned this before), and nobody wants their book languishing in a section traditionally only visited by some but not all teenage boys, especially if it's been Orange Prize longlisted. Hence the recent trend towards blurring the boundaries. If you asked people what Susan Hill writes, they'd probably say Literary Fiction. And yet what's The Woman In Black? Well, Horror, obviously. It's even been filmed by the recently resuscitated Hammer. David Mitchell writes SciFi, because frankly Cloud Atlas is mostly that, and is being filmed by the Wachowski Brothers (that's The Matrix to you). So does Murakami. What it is, and this is all it is, is jacket design* and placement in shops. I'm personally all in favour of it, as anything that expands the boundaries of what people think is "literary" is a great thing. I would even be happy if there was a stretch the other way, so all bookshops had to have a tiny awful ghetto of a section called Novels About Middle-Class Women Having Nervous Breakdowns At Holland Park Dinner Parties.

*As an example, which of these would you buy? They're all the same text inside. What if you were told the appalling Regency Romance cover cost a fiver less than either, but in order to buy it you had to go to a separate section of the bookshop called Romance Novels?

9 comments:

libby said...

Welcome back....got Etta James on the brain now.................quite a lovely little toooon.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Hi Libby. It just hangs on, doesn't it? Movie montage music. Also quite good for singing in the bath when alone at home. Tile acoustics...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Welcome back indeed!

Speaking as a cover snob, I couldn't possibly buy something I hated the cover of, even if it was exactly the same novel a fiver cheaper.

Interesting comments about category blurring. What a nightmare for our Librarians (not forgetting booksellers) : - )

Lucy Fishwife said...

I'm a total cover snob. We also have a policy in the shop never to stock the film tie-in edition of anything (unless it's the only jacket available) because most customers are too...

usedbuyer 2.0 said...

Actually, sodding elves and swords of mystic destiny was the name of my Latin study group, freshman year. (Welcome back.)

Helena Halme said...

Lucy, I let a comment but not sure if it reached you…I am also a cover snob possibly due to my shady past as a London bookseller. I would never, never, ever choose the romantic one…

I love your blog and would like to add it to my blog list if that's ok?

Helena xx

Marcheline said...

Well! As it's the first time I'm visiting your blog, I remain happily unaffected by your previous absence. But now I'm here, don't do it again.

I'd definitely pick the middle book, based on covers. Not the left one, because it looks like a gnome threw up on the cover, and not the right one, because I'm allergic to pterodactyls wearing ball gowns.

I also regularly choose new wines to try because I fall in love with the label... works amazingly well.

Now that I'm in my mid-forties, I have decided that life has grown too short to waste on apallingly-written books. Therefore I ejected "50 shades" and "Twilight" immediately. I enjoy reading about sex and vampires, but cannot abide soulless, talentless text whose target audience can be found at WalMart, fighting over pork rinds.

Loved "The Woman in Black" in the theater, haven't read the book yet. Best new novel of the summer? "The Lantern" by Deborah Lawrenson. Drama, thrills, old houses in Europe, a mystery, and a decidedly non-frilly romance.

Cheers!

Pat (in Belgium) said...

As an artist, I'm much more likely to be "caught" by a cover first...and then READ what's on it, so I'd probably go for the middle book, regardless of price.

Anonymous said...

I never buy by the cover. If possible, good intros by interesting people help. Good footnotes or endnotes can help immensely too if it's a classic. The one thing I do hate is rough paper and useless binding. That said, I love a good second hand book. The nineteenth century is ze best as the covers are image less. I wonder what was the first book ever to have a reproduction image on its cover?