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The Possibilities of Reactionary Reading

So earlier I had a conversation in comments with afearfulthing that got me thinking; the context was of reading only fic, blogrolls, and recs. In short, the selective reading of only trusted sources etc. There's nothing unusual in that, per se, except the reflection/self-consciousness of choosing to read from a body of free, communal, and public work versus industrial/pop culture production. I think that self-conscious choice is the key part, here, because it implies not only active choice in selection but also active selection.

A project I'd love to pick up one day is the history of women's private reading. Reading is of course both fascinating and difficult because it is in many ways invisible: How do you know who read what? And what she thought of it? There's a rabbit-hole of locating information from marginalia, from bookplates, from notes and diaries, from eyewitness discussions of women in line at bookstores, etc. etc. There's the story about Anne Boleyn's Bible: how she made marks in it with her fingernail: this visceral, bodily connection with a text that is still almost literally invisible.

A lot has been done on women's reactionary writing--especially in fandom, where fanworks are operators of critique and in some ways recovery: bids to "rescue" characters we love. But I'm not sure much has been done on reactionary reading--I'm writing this freeform without having done any research.

I'll use my own experience to talk about this a bit: I often find a lot more reading material of interest to me in fandom than in traditional publishing. Part of this is an access issue: what I want is a really good story with x, y, z. In a brick and mortar store or a library, you can ask clerks for recs, or see what they are promoting at the moment; but these depend on that individual person, and--sometimes--the necessity of building a relationship with them. In an online bookstore, you can run a search and sort by popularity, but this is limited by the interface's algorithms and the site's own audience. You go to a fansite, or AO3, search by tags and recs, and boom--you're done. Because you're automatically in a community of the likeminded. Going back further, you end up with similar situations in print zines, because the zines were community-based--if you were in that community, you would probably already like its content.

I imagine the closest analog to this community appeal in traditional publishing is how some companies--and I'm think specifically of Marvel and Harlequin here--build their lines for specific demographic audiences. Both companies literally have dozens of titles and each of them is for a specific audience: older readers, younger readers, African-American readers, queer readers, etc. I'm curious if anyone can think of other companies that do this?

I'm also thinking of the ongoing schisms in fandom right now, particularly on the topics of race. Check out N.K. Jemisen's GOH Wiscon Speech for more, but here's a key bit:

Maybe you think I’m using hyperbole here, when I describe the bigotry of the SFF genres as “violence”. Maybe I am using hyperbole — but I don’t know what else to call it. SFF are dedicated to the exploration of the future and myth and history. Dreams, if you want to frame it that way. Yet the enforced SWM dominance of these genres means that the dreams of whole groups of people have been obliterated from the Zeitgeist. And it’s not as if those dreams don’t exist. They’re out there, in spades; everyone who dreams is capable of participating in these genres. But many have been forcibly barred from entry, tormented and reeducated until they serve the status quo. Their interests have been confined within creative ghettos, allowed out only in proscribed circumstances and limited numbers. When they do appear, they are expected to show their pass and wear their badge: “Look, this is an anthology of NATIVE AMERICAN ANCIENT WISDOM from back when they existed! Put a kachina on the cover or it can’t be published. No, no, don’t put an actual Navajo on the cover, what, are you crazy? We want the book to sell. That person looks too white, anyway, are you sure they aren’t lying about being an Indian? What the hell is a Diné? What do you mean you’re Inuit?”

But the violence that has been done is more than metaphysical or thematic. Careers have been strangled at birth. Identities have been raped — and I use that word intentionally, not metaphorically. What else to call it when a fan’s real name is stripped of its pseudonym, her life probed for data and details until she gets phone calls at her home and workplace threatening her career, her body, and her family? (I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.) Whole subgenres like magic realism and YA have been racially and sexually profiled, with discrimination based on that profiling so normalized as to be nearly invisible. How many of you have heard that epic fantasy or video games set in medieval Europe need not include people of color because there weren’t any? I love the Medieval PoC blog for introducing simple visual evidence of how people like me were systematically and literally excised from history. The result is a fantasy readership that will defend to the death the idea that dragons belong and Those People don’t.

An ugly truth in publishing is systematic erasure of choice--just check out what's going on with Amazon right now.

[Direct linking because the embedding code just isn't working: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/t1nxwu/amazon-vs--hachette---sherman-alexie]

The commentary on first-time writers and publications is as fascinating as it saddening and disgusting.

As such, we as readers (and writers) are left to make our own alternatives where possible--and then we see this co-opted as well in terms of the major publishers that give mega-contracts to fanfic authors with proven track records (most recently, literally two days ago, a 1D fan bags a mid-six figure deal for her fan novel), and Amazon's own Kindle Worlds.

This cycle of production and consumption is fascinating--I have a whole 'nother piece I want to do on historical disruptions in terms of women's writing and reception--but what we see here is how publishers are taking advantage of alternative communities and trying to use them for more profit.


( 2 comments — Add your .02 )
Jun. 6th, 2014 05:08 am (UTC)
You deserve such a better comment from me than merely "wow, this is fascinating, I love your knowledgeable thinkiness."
Jun. 6th, 2014 08:09 pm (UTC)

( 2 comments — Add your .02 )

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