The Trouble with Meg Cabot

May 21, 2009 at 3:50 pm 5 comments

Earlier in the school year, I decided to take on a massive project: creating a bunch of fiction booklists, more or less from scratch, to put on our library blog. (Creating a booklist may not seem like such a huge undertaking, but you try categorizing over 2000 titles, many of which you’ve never read!)

My motivation at first was to familiarize myself with the collection. I was tired of not knowing the right answer when students would come in looking for something like Criminal Minded. (Indeed, the street lit list was the first one I made–these are our most popular books, and they’re constantly out whenever someone comes looking for them.)

I had also hoped to ultimately link the lists with the catalog (because it’s really frustrating to have to check every book on a list against the catalog to make sure it’s actually available), but that turns out to be a whole ‘nother story.

Anyway, I’ve been plugging away at my lists, adding summaries from other catalogs as I go to flesh out our records a little, adding new categories here and there.

And then I got totally stumped–by All-American Girl.

I’ll confess that I’ve only read one Meg Cabot book (one written for tweens, and not in our high school collection), but I’m somewhat familiar with her ouvre. So where do her books fit?

My first step, of course, was to consult Twitter, and the overwhelming reply was “Chick Lit.”

No. No way. Can’t do it.

Maybe it’s just the ornery feminist in me, but I can’t bring myself to label anything as Chick Lit, just as I can’t bring myself to label anything as Books For Boys (despite the fact that I often have teachers coming in asking for precisely the latter). Even if it turns out 99.9999% of the readership of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is female, I just flat-out refuse to gender-segregate books.

So where the heck do I put Meg Cabot?

Another suggestion via Twitter was “Romance,” but clearly that’s a label I have some underlying prejudice against, because I absolutely don’t want to use it and have zero coherent reasoning behind my gut feeling.

Now I find myself questioning my entire taxonomy. Who am I writing these labels for–teens, or teachers? I’m used to creating book carts for teachers–one of my big practicum projects was creating a reading list for a senior English course, focusing on alienation and the American immigrant experience–so I’m noticing quite a few Adult-Friendly (the horror!) categories cropping up. (Case in point: “Finding Your Place” and “Voices from Another Culture.” How did I come up with these without gagging?)

On the other hand, a big part of my motivation was the idea that kids might be able to easily browse within a theme or genre they knew they liked, so I wanted the keywords to be the same ones I was actually hearing. (Hence the elegant simplicity of “Sports” and “Classics.”)

What’s come of all this introspection? I suddenly have zero confidence in any of my categories, and I still don’t know where Meg Cabot belongs. But for fun, here are the categories as I would write them based on actual interactions and requests I’ve had throughout the year, broken into the two appropriate camps:

Books for Students
Sex
Hood Books
Twilight
Books Where Stuff Happens
Ridiculously Specific Graphic Novels

Books for Teachers, for Students
Books For Boys
Gay Harlem Renaissance
Anything But Magazines
Good Summer Reading
For The Last Time, Get Something For DEAR Time And Don’t Make Me Ask Again

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Entry filed under: books. Tags: .

Some Things about Twitter What I’ve Been Reading

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lorraine  |  May 22, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Huh – I was one who answered “Chick Lit,” but I don’t think of that as “Books for Girls” but instead it’s “Books about Chicks.” Which, in my head, is drawn out to —

    Books about people with self-esteem and/or image issues who try to find themselves through shopping, gossiping and/or coffee-shop philosophizing, but ultimately realize that friendship, love and a general sense of self-worth can be achieved through communication. May include slapstick.

    Marketing and cultural constructs of women notwithstanding, Chick Lit isn’t a box that all girl readers will respond to (and even chick lit readers won’t want it all the time), but it is easy shorthand for that emotion-and-romance based reading.

    But writing that all out gave me an idea for a category:

    — Sitcoms you can read — they are situation comedies, after all. and then you could throw in all sorts of stuff.

    Reply
  • 2. pandanose  |  May 22, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Well, it’s entirely possible I’m just projecting–when I was younger I overwhelming read “books for boys,” and I definitely would’ve thought chick lit = books for girls.

    I like your category suggestion! All of this is telling me I really need to read more of our collection, though–I wouldn’t have known anything that might fall under the chick lit umbrella might also fall under comedy.

    Reply
  • 3. melanie  |  May 22, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    I dislike the term chick-lit, but cannot justify not using it. It is a sub-genre of romance, and like the rest of the genre it is marketed to women/girls, and men/boys are not expected to be interested in it (which is not the same as saying that they don’t read it). Chick-lit is the term that people looking for that sub-genre are going to look for. I do not believe that those of us who dislike the term will be able to relable these books in the immediate future with something more acceptable. At least not without some massive coordinated action. As such, if we want people to A) find these books when they want them and B) understand what we are talking about when we talk about these books, we have to use the terms that are commonly used. Which is frustrating, but from a customer service perspective, necessary.

    I generally prefer not to use the “books for boys” label, because, to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t become the name for a specific genre or sub-genre, rather it is applied to any book of any genre that may appeal to the stereotypical uniform mass of ‘boy’ (Eragon, those hockey mysteries, Bone, etc.). My experience is that when someone comes in looking for books that boys might like, what they are looking for are books that might appeal to a boy who likes doing “boy things” and thinks reading is a “girl thing” (either flat out or partly because reading is not something he excells at). In which case the stereotypically masculine type books are a way to introduce them to the idea that reading is for everyone. Which is why those “books for boys” lists exist – not so much because those books Are For Boys, rather because Real Boys have to be tricked into reading. I’d love to make a books for boys list and a books for girls list and have the titles overlap. Hmmm….

    Reply
  • 4. laura  |  May 22, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    The best euphemism I’ve ever heard for Sex was the 8th grade girl who came up to the desk and said, “Do you have any more books about, um. . . boys?”

    As for linking directly to the catalog, there are sometimes devious ways of doing so even with catalogs that time out. Feel free to email me for details!

    Reply
  • […] trouble when it came time to categorize Meg Cabot. I promised is she blogged it, I’d link it, so here’s the post. Check it out and leave her booklist category suggestions in the […]

    Reply

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