On Genre Ignorance & Why Tight-Asses Still Don't Get Stephen King.
One thing that always used to annoy me when I was younger was a clueless radio DJ. Guys who made statements on the air about a certain performer or music style about which they knew next to nothing, as if they were experts because someone paid them to spin records. I have no idea if they still exist, as my radio listening days are mostly behind me and my passion for music in general has been waning for years.
However, as an author, my passion for fiction remains as intense as ever. As does my interest in genre-literacy, meaning, in so uncertain terms, people selling fiction knowing what the flaming Hell they are talking about.
Case in point: A certain library I happen to frequent which shall remain nameless has, like most libraries, a “Friends of the Library” book sale every so often. It just so happened today that they were offering “Buy One Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel, Get One Free.” I’d like to you store that last part away for not-too-far-in-the-future reference: “Or fantasy novel.” Got it? Thanks. Let’s move on, then.
After I’d finished browsing the library proper, I decided to go to the Friends sale and see what they had available. As usual, the majority of their offerings were not to my liking, but the advertised F&SF table had a few interesting things, including an entire row of Stephen King hardcovers. I had most of them, those I wanted anyway, but I had never purchased a copy of “Lisey’s Story,” my favorite post-Dark Tower King novel with the possible exception of his JFK one. Still, I didn’t decide to get it until I located an old copy of “The Year’s Best Science Fiction,” my absolute favorite annual anthology. Both books cost only one dollar, but combined they was buy one, get one free.
I took my choices up to the counter, enduring the annoying woman standing behind it bragging to an annoyed elderly couple about her dancing prowess at some get-together. Once they’d beaten a hasty retreat, I placed both books on the counter and she said, “Oh, did these come from the science fiction shelf. One dollar, please! Wait, this is Stephen King. That’ll be two dollars.”
“Really?” I said. “The sign said they were buy one, get one free.”
Genuinely perplexed, the woman asked me if Stephen King was science fiction. I chuckled and told her sometimes. “Well, let’s take a look at the back.” She read a few lines and frowned, “It says it’s about an unruly marriage…” She shook her head as if to say such a plot couldn’t possibly be the foundation for a work of science fiction or fantasy.
I felt my eyes blink rapidly, momentarily stunned by what I’d just heard.
“Let me go ask her,” the woman replied, referring to a woman who was helping another group of patrons.
The woman returned, seemingly displeased with the direction their brief conversation had taken. With a heavy sigh, she said, “Okay, she said Stephen King’s on the table with the science fiction. One dollar, please. Although, I think he’s more of a horror…” She shook her head again. "Science fiction is more like Star Trek."
I dug in my wallet for the dollar. “I read the novel a few years ago and it’s more of a dark fant—“
“THANK YOU!” she said and grabbed the dollar, turning away from me.
I stared at the man who was bagging my books but he kept smiling and small talking as if nothing had happened.
For a moment, just a moment, a stream of not-so-nice words begged to erupt from my mouth, then I turned and walked out.
I realize I wasn’t at a book store, nor was I dealing with a librarian. Either of those things would have made the entire experience unacceptable and this piece would be a complaint letter going directly to the library. Still, if someone is going to be part of a Friends of the Library organization and act as if they know from books, they should know from books! And if they don’t know something as elementary as the fact that Stephen King’s work can be placed into several genres, they should be willing to listen and learn from someone who does know.
Genre ignorance is often a direct result of arrogant elitism combined with an inability to be wrong. What should have been a pleasant diversion had now turned into a rant about small-minded twits and their undue influence.