A Genre Is Born

“Well folks, it’s official: literature is dead,” announces Geekologie, in a post commenting on this photo, snapped at a Barnes & Noble bookstore:mountainsphoto.ru

Evidently this is a real placard meant to direct shoppers to a new section of the store.  It’s capitalizing on the extraordinary success of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series and all of those who have followed in its wake (and have come before it, for that matter.)

My first — admittedly flippant — response to the sign was, “well, isn’t all teen romance paranormal?” But then I got to reading the Geekologie post and accompanying commentary, and realized people were in fact quite concerned about what a sign like this meant for the wellbeing of books and literature. Indeed many, although not all, of those who commented agreed with the general argument of the piece: the day when “teen paranormal romance” becomes an accepted literary genre is the day when literature has ceased being, well, literature and has become something lesser.

I’m at once surprised and unsurprised by how a sign like this could provoke so much concern. (A good friend of mine, who posted the image to Facebook, called it a sign of the apocalypse.) I’m unsurprised because, as a historian of media, I know that “Teen Paranormal Romance” follows in a long line of popular genres that well-meaning people have dismissed as trash or, worse, accused of undermining the good standing of literature itself. I’m thinking here of detective novels, mysteries, sci-fi books, popular horror, and the like.

I’m surprised, however, by the narrowness of this perspective. It goes something like this: let’s tell lots of young people who love (…wait for it…) reading books that what they’re enjoying is not only drivel but also wrecking all that has ever been good about literature. Great message, eh?  Yet, it seems as if this exactly what the critics are saying when they get all in a huff about the teen paranormal romance genre.

In fixating on a particular category of books — whatever its merits may be — the critics lose sight of the bigger picture: young people are developing a passion for reading, and of paper books, no less.  This is short-term thinking at its worst.  Maybe one day these young readers will develop a love for “real” literature; maybe they won’t.  But why go out of your way to stack the deck against them?  Indeed, the best way to turn people off to something for a lifetime is to ridicule them for it in their adolescence.

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  1. […] A Genre Is Born [Ted Striphas, The Late Age of Print]: “Teen Paranormal Romance” category at B&N elicits end-of-civilization fears. “In fixating on a particular category of books — whatever its merits may be — the critics lose sight of the bigger picture: young people are developing a passion for reading, and of paper books, no less.” […]

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