REPOST--The Last Thing They Needed Was Something Weird From Me
One Wench's Experience of Being in the (Book) Closet
by Veronica Vishous
I've never been one to read what everyone else was reading. I picked up The Hobbit when I was in middle school; why, I can't recall — certainly none of my girlfriends were reading it and I wasn't talking to any of the boys yet. I devoured every single book in my small town library about dragons and King Arthur. After that I moved on to Kurt Vonnegut. Stephen King was required reading, of course. One of my friends caught me with Wuthering Heights once and made fun of me for reading another of my "ghost stories." Safe to say, there haven't exactly been a lot of book club opportunities for me in the real world.
My current love affair with books is firmly in the the Urban Fantasy (UF), Paranormal Romance (PNR), and Male/Male (M/M) Romance genres.
Why do I insist on reading these books if I feel the need to hide my innate preference for this kind of reading material? Why am I in the book closet? Would I ever come out of the closet? Join me after the jump to find out.
SNAP BACK TO REALITY, OH THERE GOES GRAVITY
We all need a little escapism. I love how books can take me to so many impossible to visit places and times and worlds. Revolution-era Ethiopia
I am currently into escapism by way of fantasy and badassery. Why fantasy? I need to escape into a world that is so completely well-constructed that I don't have to fill in the missing pieces, and fantasy novels are known for exquisite world-building. But I also need that element of fantasy itself; I get enough realism at work. I need to feel removed, for my fictional world to be magical enough so that however absorbed I am in a book, however *real* it feels to me, I know at some level that it could not be real in *my* universe. Fantasy is escapism in its purest form. And urban fantasy over traditional fantasy? I love traditional fantasy. David Eddings is one of my favorite authors, and nothing can top the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But I just can't get enough of the contemporary badassery that you find in urban fantasy.
Why do I need badassery? Ninety percent of the people I work with have experienced some form of trauma in their lives. I can't go after the bad guys; that's not my job. Sometimes, the bad stuff is not only in the past, but is still happening for them, and I'm powerless to stop it or prevent it. All I can do is help the person figure out how to cope and heal. But Cat and Bones, the Brotherhood, Barrons and Mac, Dani and Ryodan, Ty and Zane, they go after the bad guys with a vengeance and they KICK ASS. It's all about wish fulfillment. I live vicariously through them and meet my need to kick some bad guy ass. The M/M books I have read so far have involved their share of badassery. I've even got a couple at the top of my TBR list that also fall into the paranormal category. M/M AND paranormal?!? Yes, please.
I GOT SOME SKELETONS IN MY CLOSET AND I DON'T KNOW IF NO ONE KNOWS IT
I'm not looking for escapism into a mindless fluffy book; I need a book that holds my attention, that makes me think, that makes me care about the characters and what happens in their world. I need a book that makes me wonder what the characters are up to off page, a book that makes me think about it even when I'm not reading it. What I'm trying to say is that the books I'm in the closet over are well-written books. I don't tolerate crappy books; I have no problem ditching a book 5 chapters in if it's poorly written or doesn't keep my attention.
So, why am I closeted? The books I'm reading aren't Oprah Book Club books. They usually aren't on the NY TImes bestseller lists. (Although sometimes they are! Maybe my peers *are* reading these books. Maybe *none* of us are talking about it.) There is a stigma attached to these books. Whether people assume they are books for naive tweens, the Comic-Con crowd, or the bored housewife, they play on stereotypes that are unfair and unfounded, and those stereotypes are used to judge us negatively. Also, when people hear the word "romance," they immediately think of a certain type of book. And while I've got nothing against that, I don't read traditional romances. My idea of a good time isn't educating someone on the differences between what I'm reading versus bodice-rippers.
Also, I am an *adult.* I am a grown-ass woman. My friends and I devoured Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles in college and no one blinked twice. I am considerably older now and am, I guess, supposed to be beyond such things. Like my peers, I'm supposed to be reading *serious* books about social issues. Or the latest Grisham book. Or the socially acceptable guilty pleasure of Twilight or 50 Shades (Why are those okay but the books I read aren't? That's a whole other post). I don't know, when I'm making small talk with my boss after a meeting about my $3 million budget, and she asks if I've read any good books lately, is it ever okay to tell her about my favorite Brother who is into BDSM and also might be having an off-page extramarital gay relationship with his best friend, that his wife might just be okay with? But it's a really great book and the relationship works, I swear, you should read it. Mmmmm, yeah. I haven't even told my friends about that one. They're a progressive bunch, but I'm pretty sure they'd think I'd lost my mind.
I'VE TRIED IN THIS DEPARTMENT BUT I AIN'T HAD NO LUCK WITH THIS
I'm not ashamed of what I read. I've tried to come out several times. I've tested the waters. And the waters have been freezing.
A coworker recently asked me what I was reading. I was reading the Night Huntress series at the time. I was at a bit of a loss as how to explain the whole series to her without going into great detail and sounding like a fangirl, so I said it was about vampires who go after other vampires who hurt people. (Hey, I didn't have a lot of time to come up with anything!) Her response? Raised eyebrow. "You're reading a book about *vampires*?" Incredulous look combined with a dash of shock and mild disdain.
What I *should* have said: Hey, lady. MY vamps drive blacked out SUVs instead of Volvos and do battle every single night. They are smart and they are smartasses. They are assertive, aggressive only when they need to be, and don't put up with any bullshit. They know who and what they want. They have a purpose and go after it with zeal. There's no emo bullshit in the books I read thankyouverymuch.
I told my mom about this blog endeavor, and of course she asked what I had been writing about. So I told her about the Cut & Run series. I knew she wouldn't have a problem with "the gay," but she was surprised that a straight girl would read about two men. Ha! I should point her to this and this. I've always gone a little against the grain, so I think she just chalks it up to one of my quirks. But she doesn't ask me about the books I'm reading. Ever. She leaves me to my quirky closet with my quirky books and lets us be happy in our cozy little world.
I did have one positive experience. One of my Mom's friends asked for UF/PNR recommendations. We both had read the Southern Vampire Mysteries (Sookie Stackhouse Novels), and she knew I had read other similar books, so she wanted to know about other PNR series that were good. So others exist. We are out there. Looking for secret signs that only we would know about, so we know it's safe to approach and talk to each other. True?
CAUSE WE CONSIDER THESE MOMENTS GOLDEN
Someday we UF/PNR/M/M readers will have our own Stonewall riot. Until then, I'll find support in my online community of like-minded Wenches, Minions, Moning Maniacs, and whatever other subgroups we have or choose to call ourselves. And I'll continue to lose myself in the world of my books, whether I'm waiting for the next Barbara Kingsolver or Jane Smiley novel, or anxiously awaiting the release of Dead Ever After, Lover at Last, or Touch & Geaux, or indulging myself in the world of fan fiction (oh, yes, that's probably another post, too — there's a whole *different* closet for readers of fan fiction). What is your experience? Are you closeted? Do other people know about your reading orientation? How do you approach your reading recommendations with those who might initially be less than receptive or who make quick judgments?
***Throughout this post I use "the closet" as a metaphor. A very tongue-in-cheek metaphor. I in no way compare my experience of loving UF/PNR/M/M books to the experience many have of living in a heteronormative world. Some of my references are very deliberate, in the hope of spreading some knowledge. I'm surprised that I still meet people — queer and straight — who don't know about the Stonewall Riots. The title of my post is a quote taken from Paul Monette's memoir, Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story.