I had two patron interactions yesterday that are still with me today.
The first one was a phone call; I wasn’t able to help this patron instantaneously, and I wasn’t able to give her the answer she wanted. We talked for about 5 minutes. She called me rude, unhelpful and disrespectful. I tried to explain why I wasn’t able to answer her the way she wanted; I got insulted some more.
Later in the day I was called to the reference desk to help a a patron find primary and secondary source information on governance structures in the classical world. We spent about 40 minutes looking at various print and online sources. After he left, one of my coworkers said to me “You know he was staring at your boobs the whole time.”
These two interactions have me thinking about thoughts, words, and actions; my own and those of others.
I don’t care that the male patron was staring at my chest- he never touched me other than to shake hands. He say or do anything to make me uncomfortable. I can’t control or comment on what he’s thinking. In his behavior and his speech, he was polite- I can’t ask for anything more than that. What goes on in his head is his own business. Where he puts his eyes is not something I can control. He kept his words to his research topic- I can’t ask for anything more.
I was so rattled by the female patron on the phone that I cried at my desk. We lose all visual communication and have to rely solely on voice. We don’t have any visual cues, we lose all body language- it’s dehumanizing. It’s so easy to get mad at people who aren’t there (I’m guilty of losing my temper with telephone customer support) because they’re a disembodied voice- they’re not real. I wasn’t a person to her-I was a voice, an Other, something that she could lash out at with no repercussions. I couldn’t respond in kind, because I had to be professional and courteous. I told her I’m sorry she feels that way, but my reasons are X, Y, Z.
It’s so hard to be professional and courteous (and cheerful and helpful) all the time. If you’re in customer service (and let’s not kid ourselves, all public facing librarians are in customer service), you are judged and rewarded based on your demeanor. I know my communication weakness- phone communication. I’d be ecstatic to never have to answer the phone again.
I prefer to talk to people face to face. If I can’t do that, then I’d rater write (email, SMS, letter, sticky note). Phone calls are a last resort.
This isn’t the way I wanted to end my social media vacation.
I live 20 miles north of Boston, and I tend to avoid the city on Marathon Monday. It’s a zoo. A happy, chaotic, raucous zoo, but still a zoo. All the runners, media, tourists and students on vacation make the traffic worse, and clog up the T, so I tend to watch the marathon on TV. Except for the one year I went out to Lexington for the reenactments, and ran alongside the militia, I tend to be a lazy, couch-bound slug on Marathon Monday.
This is not how I want to watch the marathon.
There’s not enough information out right now, and I refuse to engage in speculation. I’ve been watching the news, following social media accounts. I’m glad that my favorite news channel is prefacing everything with “speculation” or “unconfirmed” or “uncorroborated” reports. I’m disgusted that other media outlets are jumping to sensationalist conclusions.
I’m glad that my runner friends are ok, and my friends who work in Downtown Boston are ok. I’m glad that first responders are taking care of the injured, and that police and other agencies are investigating. I’m glad that we have so many world-class hospitals.
My prayers are with the victims, and their families.
Literary fiction should look in the mirror
Someone I follow on Tumblr just realized (and posted) that there’s literary fiction, and there’s also genre fiction, and their readers should check these Wikipedia links to all the different genres.
I don’t want to link to them, because I don’t want to call someone out on their stupidity, arrogance, and superior attitude. However, I do what to rant. I want to rant that the lit tag is full of references to the classics and to literary fiction, but I hardly see anything to any of the other genres. If you want info about other forms of literature, you have to go looking for fandoms. Literary fiction is as full of fanboys and fangirls as any Dr. Who tumblr, but because they have the power of seriousness and literary merit behind them, they must be “better” or at least “not the same.”
The AWP was full of more nerds, geeks and superfans than the last con I went to. But because it was a conference for MFAs, it didn’t consider itself to be on the same level as one for sf nerds.
Let’s talk terminology. Genre is a way of categorizing literature (or other art forms) based on form, style or content. Form is easy: poetry, drama, essay, novel, etc. each form can be broken down further, so poetry can be sorted by: rhyme scheme, rhythm scheme, line groupings, and so on. Style is how it’s written: what’s the point of view? Is it epistolary? Stream of consciousness?
Content is where people start to make unreasonable assumptions about the work, the author, and its (relative) merit. If it has magic, it must be fantasy. Lasers? Science fiction. A dead body? Mystery. This automatic sorting of novels by subject matter places limits on the scope of the writer and the reader by forcing upon them certain expectations and tropes. It also sets up strange sub-categories like “teen vampire paranormal urban romance.”
Literary fiction can be described by the absence of genre tropes: there are no elves, lasers, magic, dead bodies, historical figures. And since it has none of these, it must be literature. Literary fiction has its own tropes, its own code of writing, that it tends to sublimate.
- Literary fiction is contemporary. It takes place in today’s world, with today’s technology.
- Literary fiction is highly stylized. The writing is grammatically precise (maybe showing off?)
- Literary fiction is serious. It takes itself seriously. It treats its subjects seriously.
Literary fiction thinks of itself as literature. By putting the word “literary” in the genre’s name, literary fiction intentionally compares itself the classics and the canon, without the benefit of time and outside opinion.
Looking at this list of characteristics, I can easily fit literary fiction into its own little box, between kiss and tell romance and murder mystery.
Genre writers know they’re writing a genre. This knowledge gives them a certain freedom (power over, distance from,superiority to?) literary fiction writers who think they’re writing literature. They’re so sure their book has the strength to stand up to Austen and Joyce, even though it was just published this year. Literary fiction authors seek to bypass the reader/scholar/critic path to the canon and seek to insert themselves there by virtue of their own say-so.
Look, LitFic, you’re a genre. You have tropes, fans, and cons. Just accept it. You’re not better than fantasy, and you’re no worse than horror. You’re your own genre.