> Queer Books Please: Thoughts on categorizing books, part 1

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thoughts on categorizing books, part 1

Writing this blog, one thing that occurs to me is how artificial it can feel when trying to categorize and group different books together. Looking at issues like genre, or YA versus adult fiction, or even just how “gay” or “queer” a book might be. This is part one in a three part series where I try to explain some of my thoughts on this issue.
The benefits of trying to categorize books are obvious—it helps the publisher market titles and it helps us, the reader, find what we want to read. Obviously when it comes to categories like lesbian fiction, there may be some drawbacks as well. I often see concerned musing on the internet that categorizing a book as gay or lesbian or queer will turn off straight readers.
I guess that’s part of the reason I’m working on this blog, trying to group books together as interesting to queer readers, whether the publisher and author have tried to make that distinction or not.
What is required to label a book as lesbian fiction—besides, of course, explicit labeling by the publisher or author? Does someone need to identify as a lesbian? Does that need to be romance—or at least, sexual attraction? Personally I don’t need sex and I don’t need explicit identification or labeling in the text to be interested in a book as a piece of queer fiction. (I hope people don’t mind the use of the word queer. A part of me worries that the word has sort of radical implications. And I know my mother still can’t say the word queer because it feels rude and shocking to her. But for me it isn’t meant to be politically aggressive, but rather a better way to be inclusive when describing my tastes.) I’d say any book that allow for the possibility of queer genders and sexualities is at least queer enough that I’ll consider talking about it here on the blog. That’s a pretty big net to cast.
I hope it’s not too big a net. I’ve wondered if even though my own scope is wide, if I should to categorize what I’m reading for the sake of the readers who are here looking for the next thing they might want to read. And specifically try to categorize the queer content. I know that sometimes I want to read a book where I know two women are going to have a romantic relationship, and sometimes I just want to read about a bad ass lady who might be a little bit queer. Sometimes a concept sounds interesting, and the fact that there’s a queer secondary character will help to decide to pick it up. But how do I quantify that for the reader? And should I even try? I guess I could try to use some sort of spectrum, but even then you have differences—what if there’s a lesbian characters who is out, but no romance? What if there’s a same sex romance, but they don’t identify as lesbian?
Obviously, I haven’t come to a conclusion on this. Perhaps once I have a larger book list to play with, I’ll consider trying to categorize them, but at this point I’m inclined to just stay inclusive, and try to give you the information you might need in the review itself.
Tune in tomorrow for some thoughts on genre. Do you only read genre fiction? Or do you NEVER read genre fiction? Either way you’re depriving yourself of some good readin’ and I hope make some connections between genres that may seem different, but actually do similar things.

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