Up Close and (un)Conventional: Condescending Shelves

Posted 11 November, 2016 by Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews in Discussion Posts / 47 Comments

Up Close and (un)Conventional - (un)Conventional Bookviews

Up Close and (un)Conventional: Condescending Shelves

Welcome to this week’s Up Close and (un)Conventional. This is where I discuss both things that have to do with reading and blogging, and things that just have to do with life in general. This week, I’m discussing what I want to call condescending shelves. What am I talking about, you ask? Well, a little while ago, I had some time to kill, and went to one of only two book stores in Geneva where it’s possible to buy books in English! Yeah, we really don’t have a lot of choice, especially because there are several official languages here, and we will mostly find either books by French, German or Italian authors, or books translated into one of those languages.

Condescending Shelves - (un)Conventional Bookviews

Condescending Shelves - (un)Conventional Bookviews

At first, when I went into the ‘English Books’ part of the store, I was so happy! What did I see? Well, there was, for the very first time a book by Lori Foster, and I found a Sylvia Day title, as well as Colleen Hoover, Kresley Cole and even Nalini Singh and Anna Todd! Why am I upset then, you ask? Well… these authors (whom I absolutely love!!) were all shelved as ‘Light Fiction’. And I felt as if the whole shelf was condescending. And it made me a bit angry, too – because ‘chick lit’ and romances have always been looked down on, but I never felt like a bookstore was a place where I might feel as if I should be ready to defend my reading choices.

Condescending Shelves - (un)Conventional Bookviews

As you already know if you’re a frequent visitor here at (un)Conventional Bookviews, I certainly read my share of classic literature as well as more ‘serious’ books both when it comes to fiction and non-fiction. And I enjoy those a lot. But I really love reading a contemporary story that might deal with social injustices that are hot right now, or a light romance that also leans on feminism to show that equality still hasn’t really happened. Or a young adult fantasy where love is important, but fighting the dictatorial government is even more so. And I don’t like that those condescending shelves – for a nano-second – managed to make me feel like some of my reading-choices were being belittled. Not that this will ever stop me from buying a book I want – I already owned all those by my favorite authors here… – but I don’t understand why some kinds of fiction are supposed to be ‘lesser’ somehow.

Has this happened to you? Have you ever said something about it to someone?

Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews
Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

About Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

Lexxie is an English as foreign language teacher and has a Master's degree in English Language and Literature. She's an avid reader, blogger, compulsive one-clicker and a genre omnivore. Ever since she learnt how to read she has been seen with a book or two in her hands everywhere she goes.

47 responses to “Up Close and (un)Conventional: Condescending Shelves

  1. It’s really interesting that you’d post this right after I was in a book store, for a fundraising book fair, where I was made to feel condescended to over my choices. I’ve not experienced in the way you did – and it would have made me a bit mad too, wifey, but a fellow orchestra parent asked what I was purchasing and when I showed her, her entire body language changed. She didn’t approve, that’s for certain. And it bothered me. I shook it off, of course, but still… I have a sticker on my desk that we might have gotten at BEA but anyway, it says “Judgement Free Reading Zone”. I do not judge anyone else on their choice of reading material because, hey, they’re reading. I’d like the same courtesy extended to me.
    Great post, my dear! Happy Friday! I’m sorry I went “dark” but I am feeling better. I’ve stayed away from the t.v. though. πŸ˜‰ Miss you & love you! <3 *BIG HUGS*

    • *ugh* most of the people looking down on us for our reading choices have never even tried one of the books we are so fond of, the just judge based on what they think the book is all about. And a lot of people I know think that YA is all immature and dealing only with romantic heartache. Hey, pick one up and let me know, OK? And as an English teacher, I’ve seen this, too. When I got my students to read If I Stay, and we also watched the movie to discuss the differences between the two, other teachers looked at me as if I was crazy.
      I’m glad you shook off that woman and her judgemental eyes, Brandee. What we enjoy reading about is our own choice, and no puppies or children are hurt by it πŸ˜‰
      I’m glad you’re feeling better, love! Have a fantastic Friday!! Love you and miss you. {{{BIG HUGS}}}

  2. See, and this is what I miss about a bookstore we used to have here in the US that closed (still sad about that). Borders didn’t do that to fiction. In fact, ‘light’ fiction was placed in the most prominent spots and got the most attention. But, I’ve always felt that publishers even make the distinction when they put some ‘light’ fiction genres mostly in mass market paperback and reserve the trade paper back format for their more ‘serious’ fiction (not that I want to pay more for trade vs mass paperback). The quality type of paper copy seems to be reserved for the lit fiction.

    Interesting! Thanks, Lexxie!

    • Yeah, it felt really weird, Sophia, especially because fiction that is more geared towards men, like spy thrillers, or horror were just called thriller or horror… But fiction geared towards women is ‘light’? Why? Maybe I’ll go back to the book store and ask them? If they realize that they might actually sell less books that way, because who want’s to be seen as a ‘light fiction’ reader?
      Heh… paper quality – I need to look into that as well, I guess. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Yeah, both romances and YA are often looked down on, Jeann, and I think that’s really sad! I’ve had people wondering about me going to RT as well, like that’s not a ‘real’ convention because it’s for romance lovers… There are so many great authors who come there, and it’s a great convention, so I really don’t care. But it always makes me sad when others are so judgemental.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Light fiction??? I understand your annoyance there. I really do hate the book snobbery I sometimes see on Goodreads and other places. I get comments sometimes because I love zombies and don’t read ‘the classics’ or ‘proper literature’ and that really bugs me! Reading is about fun and entertainment so we should be able to read what we want without people looking down their noses at us. One Christian woman told me I was going to Hell for reading Stephen King! I see most derision aimed at adults who read Mills & Boon/Harlequin type romances, YA or who only read a few genres (like myself). I HATE people telling me what I should like or read or slagging me off for disagreeing with their opinion on a book. So next time someone says ‘how can you read THAT?’ just reply ‘I opened up the book and there were words there, and by following it with my eyes I found that they made a story! It was just like magic!’ They HATE that kind of sarcasm…

    • Yeah, some people don’t even want to call all fiction literature, because, you know, that’s just for the classics in the cannon. It makes me both sad and mad, truly. And the snobbery should really stop! We read, and we do it on our own time, we should not ever be made to feel bad for the choices we make about the books we want on our shelves and our e-readers.
      Oh my, going to hell for reading SK? That’s a bit much, no? And I wonder if that person watches the news, or TV shows that could be taken as not being religious enough?
      LOL I LOVE your kind of sarcasm, Chuckles! So much fun! And you’re right, those people don’t even know what they’re missing out on! Plus, even if they don’t want to read the stuff we enjoy, they should just let us enjoy it – it’s not like because you enjoy reading about zombies more ‘serious’ authors won’t write more books, right?
      Thanks for stopping by!

    • I don’t really mind being in the YA section, but having the shelves kind of scream at me that my reading choices are ‘light’ really did get to me a little. It didn’t truly take away my enjoyment of finally seeing some of my favorite authors on the shelves over here, though πŸ™‚

  4. Berls
    Twitter:

    I experienced this constantly when I was in grad school – so many people there made me feel embarrassed and ashamed of my reading interests. It wasn’t until I was finally leaving that I felt confident enough to not hide it. But a book store is supposed to be a safe place πŸ™ to me, there’s no such thing as lite fiction! Great post, Lexxie!

    How are you doing this week? I’m trying so hard to pull myself out of this depression I’ve fallen into, but it’s hard when my reality has so drastically shifted. And it’s hard to look at some people the same πŸ™ to top it off, I seem to be getting sick. Grrr! {Hugs} sorry for being a downer there for a minute and have an amazing Friday πŸ™‚

    • Yeah, like it’s less than other kinds of fiction? And what I said to my daughter this morning was that it was also so typical that more ‘feminine’ fiction is labelled as ‘light’ while the manly thrillers are just ‘thrillers’ :O
      I’m good, my dear! Still kind of confused about the world, but hopefully, we can all band together and do our best to make the future bright, you know? I hope you won’t get sick, and that you’ll have a great weekend, my dear Berls! {{{BIG HUGS}}}

  5. It happens all the time. Because I read books from all genres I feel it all around. For example, I am reading a paranormal or urban fantasy and hear I prefer realistic fiction. It is the same as folks wrinkling their nose if you read YA as an adult. I would have been floored if I saw this at a bookstore. My favorite was the year someone gifted me a non-fiction book. Which was fine, but what they said was, “I wanted you to get a taste of real writing.” I kid you not….needless to say that friendship hasn’t developed. Enjoy your weekend.

    • The saddest thing is that the non-fiction being seen as ‘real writing’ is something I’ve heard as well, Kim. And that just makes me roll my eyes so hard! Because really? What is fiction, then, just letters randomly thrown together??
      And yeah, I think it was the fact that this was at a bookstore – where they actually want me to buy something – that they had named the shelves like this that made me take a step back and ask “seriously”??

  6. Ughhh…will the day ever come when we can read in peace and not have to worry about hiding covers or being afraid of what people will think?

    • I don’t really care all that much if people see what I’m reading, and it has been fun explaining what “The Siren” by Tiffany Reisz is all about *grins* the person who asked me was very uncomfortable πŸ˜€
      I agree, though, people should just let us read in peace, and let us enjoy our form of entertainment!

  7. That is pretty upsetting. I doubt I would have been able to stop myself from saying something to the employees. I don’t think of Chick Lit as being light reading. A good romance/chick lit can make me feel all the feels and even cry. That’s a powerful book! I would say try not to take it personal, but I would (and am) of felt a bit offended myself!

    • Yeah, I don’t get why they would alienate their clients that way. I really should go back there and see if the shelves are still named that way, and see if one of the employees would explain the reasoning behind it to me.
      I agree, chick lit can be very tough, with some difficult themes and a lot of strong emotions and the writing can be just as well done and prosaic as in a classic novel!
      Thanks for stopping by, Karen!

  8. Most of my bookstores tend to just shelve things as Romance or Science Fiction/Fantasy or something like that, which is good! It keeps things a bit more broad and lumps things based more on genre. I can see why Light Fiction would seem to be putting down the books you read though. Light seems to say it’s just fluff, with no substance, and that’s usually not true – even if the book IS a romance or something.

    -Lauren

    • Exactly! We have different genres, and some books can be cross-genres for more than one… I’ve never heard of ‘light’ as a genre so far, thought. And the more I think about it, the more I’m disappointed in this bookstore! They should totally cater to all their customers, not make anyone feel like their reading choices aren’t important enough!
      Thanks for stopping by, Lauren πŸ™‚

    • LOL Neyreda! Some people look at us as if we eat children for breakfast when we browse those shelves, eh? Now, with all the comments I got, I really do want to get back to that store and see if they still call my fiction ‘light fiction’ and see if someone can explain the reasoning behind it to me…
      There’s still a lot of chick lit around, but so many people felt like that was kind of offensive as a ‘genre’ too, and so a lot of it is now rather called either women’s fiction or plain contemporary romance… It’s confusing when you can’t find your favorite anymore.

  9. I think it happens all the time, I see smirks when I say I read YA, and more smirks when I talk about romance books. But the worst I ever heard was from a friend who was explaining to published author that she was writing her first book. The author asked her what it was about and after hearing it was a contemporary romance, said “oh you’re writing trash!”. Worst of all was my friend was so taken aback that she laughed it off rather than putting her in her place.

    • :O are you fucking kidding me?? Romance was trash according to this author? I guess the first time that happened, the natural reaction is one of incredulity, no? I’ve heard of other romance authors who have heard this more than once, and are just sick and tired of it.
      It seems to me that women from all walks of life read romance and YA, and I don’t get why we should ever be smirked at, you know? And reading YA and romances does not mean that we aren’t intelligent, hard-working women who have the ability to think about deeper subjects as well.
      Thanks for stopping by, Trish!

  10. I don’t think I’ve seen this happen in a bookstore I’ve visited, but then again I don’t go to bookstores often anymore as I have the same problem as you, bookstores either only have a small section of english books or none at all. And the english books then just get grouped as english, nothing else usually.
    I do think the term light fiction does sound condescending and a bit weird too. I mean what does light fiction even mean? I will sometimes mention if a book was heavier/ darker or lighter in my review, but to use the term light as genre indication just seems wrong. And even those “light” books can be just as good of a read or important to read.
    I read multiple genres and my opinion always is that every genre is good to read, you should read what makes you happy and there is no wrong book or genre to read.

    • Bookstores are supposed to be our safe place, so I think that’s why I was so shocked, Lola. I am supposed to be able to go there and buy and kind of book I like an not feel judged, right?
      I agree with you about inventing a ‘genre’ light, too. It just doesn’t exist πŸ™‚

  11. I’ve run across this too. Makes you wonder who did the labeling of the books. I read across all genres and age groups and find it happens in all of them, Lexxie.

  12. What a wonderful and informative post you have here. I really hate the attitude that romance or chick lit is considered not real literature. Where j was born and raised had this attitude very strongly. I haven’t seen it too much at bookstores though unless they were a small local bookstore. I do wish that others were more accepting of this genre… Although it’s way better now than it was ten years ago. But it’s a shame that quite a few people look down on it because some of the best books I have ever read have been romance or chick lit even. Love your insights here

  13. I’ve never had to defend myself regarding romance to anyone. But I do get that there is a condescending attitude towards readers of romance. Honestly, I love all genres. But I really enjoy Historical Romance. I don’t care if people see the bare chested male on the cover of the book I’m reading, I proudly display it in public. It doesn’t mean that I’m lonely, or don’t appreciate “real” fiction. ~Aleen

    • Oh I don’t even try to defend myself, but I have felt other people’s judgement for sure. I proudly show off my covers, too (apart from when I use my kindle, of course). And all fiction is good fiction in my opinion, as long as it is well written πŸ™‚

  14. It’s such a bad move on the bookstore owners part when they do this. Don’t they even consider the fact that they are insulting potential buyers? I’ve stopped shopping in small indie stories because the employees sneered at my choices. Why should I give them my money if they can’t respect my reading choices?

  15. I don’t think I’ve seen the sign “Light fiction” before or if I did i forgot about it. However, the other part of this…the judgement on what people are purchasing or reading…that I have seen.

    Personally, I do not judge what people read. If we all read the same stuff life would be boring. I tend to have to defend myself with regards to reading suggestions when those suggestions include the more serious topics you mentioned. I read to escape the harsh realities of society.

    There was one time recently that I got highly agitated at the seller of a book. This was not your typical bookstore, but a tractor club. I saw a great picture book that I wanted to read and either add to my collection or give as a gift. The guy (who knows my husband) said, “This can’t be for you, you don’t have children.” I did my best to respond cordially as I bought the book, but won’t patronize his club fundraisers again.

    • I had never seen a bookshelf in a book store calling some fiction ‘light’ and I’m still upset about it, really! Judgement is such a waste of time – those who are judging are getting worked up over nothing (at least not anything that is any of their business!) and those who are being judged like that don’t deserve it.
      We do all enjoy different things, and sometimes, that different thing someone else read can sound intriguing enough for me to want to try it, and then I may even discover that I really enjoy something new as well.
      I wouldn’t patronize that guy’s fundraisers again either, Xyra! Those children’s books can be so comforting at times, and the pictures pieces of art! I’m glad you got the book anyway πŸ™‚

      • Absolutely! That’s why I like reading your reviews and some of the other book bloggers – I may get a suggestion for something to read that I might not have found on my own. πŸ™‚

  16. This is such a thoughtful discussion post! I wouldn’t even have thought about it too deeply because sometimes I can be terribly ignorant like that >.> I haven’t had a bookstore ever be so straight-up condescending like that, but I have had people tell me that YA is not really literature and therefore isn’t really knowledgeable reading… if only they knew how many things YA had taught me!

    • I was just so shocked to see so many of my favorite authors on that ‘light’ shelf, I didn’t even know what to do! Except I knew it’d make for a great discussion post πŸ™‚ And I don’t think it’s ignorant to not think about the shelves and how they’re named – I’ve just been around for such a long time I can’t not think about such things anymore.
      I just had a discussion about YA with a friend of mine from Uni the other day. I can’t remember which article I read that kind of used the Hunger Games as a basis for some of the differences in rural America and the big cities on the coasts… And he was like, the Hunger Games? And so I said yeah, it’s really well done, the trilogy follows several characters through a revolution, and the philosophical and political undertones are great, plus the character growth was good, too. And he asked me – with a smirky smile – if I had read it. And I said of course, and I’ve watched the movies, too. He was shocked – because we are grad-students in English language and literature, and so he didn’t think I’d read YA by contemporary authors πŸ˜€ Now, he wants to get his hands on The Hunger Games πŸ˜‰

  17. I feel like I have to defend my reading choices all too often. When people ask what I like to read and I tell them vampires, werewolves, witches, demons and the like, they immediately start to think I’m on the bandwagon of Twilight. Yes, I’ve read Twilight series. I read them before they were all out, not to mention the movies. Even if I did jump on the bandwagon, who cares. I work with a woman who implies that she is better because she listens to talk radio over me listening to fictional audiobooks. Doesn’t bother me. I’m willing to read what I want, no matter what people think of me.

    I will say that my local used bookstore has weird ideas with how the books are shelved. I generally have to go to four of five sections to find all my favorite authors. I find books like Patricia Brigs in romance (which has some elements of romance, but I’ve never considered it romance genre), Jim Butcher in science fiction, I even find some UF and PNR authors in Horror. I also have to check out the Fantasy and Fiction sections so to be sure not to miss anyone.

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