I am the first to admit that I’m not the greatest representative of the publisher that employs me. If you’d have scanned my bookshelves prior to 2007, you might have found one fantasy novel among the hundreds. And its title most likely would have included the words "Harry" and "Potter."
Things changed when I was hired at the science fiction and fantasy publisher where I continue to work, five years later. I joined a postapocalyptic book club. I read a few Philip K. Dick titles, and I finally heeded a friend’s advice to pick up a copy of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. But I still don’t read most of the titles I’m paid to write ad copy for—which I should admit a little less readily at cocktail hours, perhaps.
I do understand the appeal of what we publish, and the appeal of mystery, suspense, horror, etc. That’s why I wasn’t so surprised when I read the list of David Foster Wallace’s ten favorite books in Slate a few weeks back. The Stand, The Silence of the Lambs, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Sum of All Fears…Tom Clancy, no less!
Scanning DFW's list, I was reminded of a moment earlier on my career, during an annual meeting when all the publishers under our parent company’s umbrella gathered in an auditorium to discuss how we did that year. One guy got up and asked—because one guy always does—“So, who did the best?” The CEO replied that the peculiar little SF and F publisher where I work did, beating out the more mainstream houses. This was baffling to me, and, perhaps, to the question-asker.
In the intervening years, though, yeah! Genre! Kudos to you, David Foster Wallace, for reminding us that reading stuff that’s entertaining isn’t a bad thing—and that admitting we like it is all right, too. Sometimes I need to read some Lorrie Moore or Roberto Bolaño. But I won’t deny loving The Last Unicorn, or discount the boundless enthusiasm people have for George R. R. Martin.
As one commenter at the end of the Slate article stated, “Inconceivable that great writers can like all kinds of books, all kinds of authors. Quelle horreur! I need my fainting couch.” The bookshelf next to my own couch has become more seasoned with genre stuff, and no houseguests have fainted yet. Also, in a happy turn of events for the genre crew, in the New York Times’ “10 Best Books of 2011,” DFW got beat by one of the writers he put on his own list. Congratulations, Stephen King. First time for everything.