Thursday, August 23, 2012

What YOU are reading...

Most of the posts on this blog are about which books we librarians choose to while away our leisure time. But what about what YOU are reading? It’s hard for us to say: Unless you come to the Reference Desk and ask us for a reading recommendation, or at least ask us to help you find a book on the shelves, we have no clue.

The library staff who work “out front” at the Circulation Desk probably have a much better idea, since every book that checks out of or into the library passes through their hands. But when you are busy helping one patron after another in a sometimes long line, you may get only a hazy idea of what you have scanned, swiped, and handed over.

One way we do notice what you are reading is the Holds list. When we owned 33 copies of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, and still had 30 holds on the book, we knew lots of you (not just teens) were fans. Ditto with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, by Stieg Larsson, and, more recently, The Hunger Games franchise, by Suzanne Collins. The latest in the Holds frenzy is Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.

Ironically, many of us who work at the library are so conditioned to help the patrons that we are lagging sadly behind in reading what all of you are demanding. When there are a lot of holds on a book, if you are a good librarian you hesitate to tie up one copy by checking it out for yourself. For this reason, I own my own copies of the Twilight series, ditto with The Hunger Games (as a self-respecting teen librarian, I pretty much have to!), and I still haven’t managed to read Larsson’s Swedish murder mysteries. Someday.

When Fifty Shades of Grey first surfaced, I was made aware of it by a friend who heard some early buzz from reviews. I didn’t take much notice until after our first three copies were cataloged and put on the shelves, never to be seen again (because they are constantly checked out). When we look up a book on the library OPAC (online public access catalog) and see “No copies currently available—estimated wait is…” followed by a big number or, worse, "undetermined,” we know we have a winner and had better order more copies for y'all. And, as I said before, I figured I wouldn’t be reading it any time soon, because of the Holds list.

Last weekend, however, I was so busy on Friday afternoon that I forgot to check out something to read over the weekend. (Contrary to popular belief, librarians don’t read on the job—or even take the time to browse the shelves!) I realized that fact during a stop at Ralph’s market on my way home from work, so when I turned up the aisle with the popular paperbacks, I stopped to look for something engaging. There on the shelf were greatly discounted paperback copies of all three of James’s books—Grey, Darker, and Freed. I am a fast reader, and they were cheap, so I put all three in my grocery cart and headed for the register.

The checker ran them over the scanner and pursed her lips. “I have a definite opinion about these books,” she said. I winced inwardly, because the books’ reputation as more than racy made me think I was about to get an earful about reading something so scandalous. Instead…

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I am a BIG fan of BDSM. But these books—they’re not very well written. If you want something like that, you should try something else, like…” and suggested a few.

I had no idea what she was talking about! But, being a librarian, I went home and looked up a definition on the Internet. Here it is:

Some people say [BDSM] is a combination of B&D and S&M. Some add D/s to the middle and say it stands for BD DS SM. So, now we have to define three terms instead of one. Let us start with B&D. B&D is rather universally agreed to stand for Bondage & Discipline OR Bondage & Dominance. D/s is Dominance & Submission. And last, but far from least, is S&M which stands for Sadism & Masochism or Slave & Master.

  Wow—what did I get myself into?

I will just say, I read all three. The first one was intriguing, I have to admit. Then I had to read the second one, because the cliffhanger at the end of the first one made me crazy and I had to find out what happened. But by the third one…I was bored. That’s right, bored. And maybe a little offended. Not offended by what most might conclude—the graphic sex—but by the predictable and mundane assumptions and prejudices that linger in our society. Is the right place to look for progress in gender equality in a popular BDSM novel? Probably not…since the entire romance genre depends on some basic stereotypes that we all must accept in order to enjoy the romance! But I still find the cliches disappointing.

The only thing that kept me reading was the story. James is a repetitive writer with a limited vocabulary, so after awhile the descriptions of the, er, recreational parts got downright tedious. You know you’re in trouble when you’re skipping the supposedly “good parts” to get to the story line. But my ultimate reason for reading fiction is to embrace the characters, immerse myself in the plot, and find resolution for the situation, and apparently even with such flimsy vehicles as these novels, that is still a compelling force!

I look forward to finding out the NEXT big thing on the Holds List. Or maybe I'll finally get to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!

P.S. Now that I've read the E. L. James books, I'll donate them to the library--so, more copies for YOU!

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