Monday 17 April 2017

Reading In Colour?

Read an article just now about reviewing. Not the usual 'crit sandwich' explanation about saying something nice before the nasty but about the perception of race/colour/sexual orientation; how review guidelines are changing to include clear, even mandatory reference to these differences in plot or characters.

Did you yawn? It was actually pretty interesting. It made the point that some readers would appreciate reading about characters who are not middle-class-western-white, especially for their children to find characters who, wow, look like them for a change? That some book covers, which I figured were a possible guide, are actually misleading in that respect.

But it also debated the criteria for when to make such references. If a story hangs on these differences, eg a European thrown into an African setting, a gay youth coming out, then it's obviously very relevant to point it out. If the race or sexual leaning of the characters make absolutely no difference to the plot, eg everyone in the story is female, or the best friend is gay and hey, nobody cares, should it be flagged up, or not?

I guess what bothered me was the sense it had also opened a door I wasn't so sure about, cos it sounds sorta like that's what's being hinted at here is also; hey, this book has some weirder stuff in it you might want to avoid?

I'm sure at least some of those backing the idea definitely don't have that in mind, they honestly feel it encourages more diverse writing. And it may well do that. And I too am all in favour of more varied fiction; hell, I probably write it, people often seem to think I've gone off the beaten track. But I've found, for instance, absolutely great SF tucked away under the LGBT label, or whichever acronym it is today, that I'm pretty sure isn't getting read and appreciated as much as it deserves compared to more 'mainstream' SF, simply because readers just don't go there, as if they're only entitled to if they're also part of the club. So it concerns me that the same thing could happen if we start labelling every book according to its colour orientation? I'm sure there are some sad little puppies out there who'd find it a great tool for not reading a book?

Pessimistic? I really hope so, but the blatantly forced mention of these aspects of character makes for uncomfortable reading, which does maybe impact one's inclination to read a book thus reviewed? And I doubt I'm the only reader who's started a book and thought some character or plot thread has been consciously tweaked purely to 'qualify' for some diversity label.

Maybe I should just look forward to a day when a diverse plot and cast list will be the true norm, not just the result of writers or publishers being politically correct, and the only need to reference such things will be because the story is about being more narrow, and because that seems unnatural. The best books have always accepted what's right for their storyline and stuck with it.

Write the story, not the required reading. That the mind thinks broader is more important than whether the book does?