This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

August 11, 2004 - genre fiction

When I was in library school, I took a class called "Genre Fiction." We read and discussed samples from many categories of popular fiction.

I knew about most of them. Through my undergraduate years, I'd worked as a clerk at the Normal (Illinois) Public Library. For the hardbacks, we had four separate sections beyond the regular fiction collection: mystery, science fiction, romance, and western.

In the paperbacks, there were even more genres. We had Gothics -- whose covers inevitably featured a pretty young woman running through the night in a nightgown, a look of fear in her eyes, and a castle looming in the background.

We had historical fiction, also known as bodice-rippers. Those covers always displayed, locked in a passionate embrace, a bare-chested man, rippling with muscles, and a woman in an advanced state of decolletage. These books averaged about three times as long as most of our fiction.

We also had, I kid you not, a section of Nurse books. Those covers all featured a perky young nurse, cute in her nursing cap and cape, usually worrying about the goings-on at the hospital.

Well, we had to come up with a final paper for the semester in Genre Fiction, and I decided to write a short story. It was a Nurse-Romance-Gothic-Science Fiction-Western-Mystery. As far as I know, it's the only one of its kind.

The main character was Harriet Blackthorne, a nurse who had to leave her hospital back East to collect on the fortune of her uncle, who died mysteriously and left a crumbling Victorian mansion in Arizona. Her love interest was Lone, "150 pounds of fighting librarian," who was imposing a reading program on a rough-and-tumble Western town. Then, of course, there was Xixil, the horse from the stars.

I had a lot of fun playing with stereotypes and cliches. I also (he said modestly) came up with one of the best lines I've ever seen in any book. It was about my Western librarian. "He had," I wrote, "the strong, deeply tanned hands of a man who had done a lot of heavy reading outdoors."

I got an A.

I remembered all this when a patron recently asked me to consider establishing a science fiction and fantasy section at one of our libraries. While we do mark science fiction (and mysteries) with a distinctive ribbon of tape, few people will browse the whole fiction collection for their favorite genre.

Right now, our collections are set up to make it easy to find books by authors -- but people who browse by genre don't always know which authors they want.

It was certainly the case for me, back in Normal, that I mostly hung out in the science fiction area, and as a result, read a good mix of both old and new titles.

Moreover, as you think about bookstores, they too sort collections by genre. Why? Because, I'm guessing, they sell more books that way.

Changing our internal layout isn't an easy thing. We also would have to change a lot of catalog records.

What do YOU think? If you're interested in seeing distinct collections of genres, let me know which ones you'd like to see broken out. Call 303-688-7656, or email me at jlarue@jlarue.com.

But where to shelve a Nurse-Romance-Gothic-Science Fiction-Western-Mystery?

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