Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Surrender vs. Culling

Here’s an excellent article at npr.com by Linda Holms.

Surrender, she says, is what you do when you realize that you will never, ever be able to read more than a tiny fraction of the books you would love, and you accept this fact.

Culling is what you do when you declare that all romances / westerns / fantasies / vampire novels are trash and therefore you’re not missing anything when you ignore them. Culling is a psychological trick that protects you from having to acknowledge how much you’re inevitably going to miss.

And Holms says she kind of wonders whether these days there might be a strengthening tendency toward culling:

“What I’ve observed in recent years is that many people, in cultural conversations, are far more interested in culling than in surrender. And they want to cull as aggressively as they can. After all, you can eliminate a lot of discernment you’d otherwise have to apply to your choices of books if you say, “All genre fiction is trash.” You have just massively reduced your effective surrender load, because you’ve thrown out so much at once.”

Well, of course, when *I* cull, it works, because all romances really *are* trash.

Kidding! Kidding!

Of course you can’t read everything, or even a significant minority of everything, and naturally it’s helpful to narrow your attention down to those chunks of everything in which you’re more likely to find things you really do love . . . but there’s no question that every single time you declare a genre or subgenre not-of-interest and ignore it, you’re setting yourself up to miss those parts of it you really would love.

I do think that this is the exact problem — the problem of finding things you’d love when they’re in genres you’re not focused on — that online book review sites such as The Book Smugglers address, and that the need for great (and prolific) reviewers will become more and more important as self-publishing rises and the enormous pool of books we’d love becomes ever more diluted by the far more immense ocean of books we’d hate.

It’s true I almost never read contemporary YA — just YA fantasy and SF. And I seldom read romances, YA or otherwise. But I bought The Sky is Everywhere and Five Flavors of Dumb because of Ana’s reviews at The Book Smugglers blog, and I haven’t read Five Flavors yet, but The Sky is Everywhere is utterly fantastic and definitely one of my favorite books of those I’ve read this year.

And I wouldn’t have ever noticed either if I’d declared contemporary YA and YA romances uninteresting — as Holms puts it, if I’d culled those categories. So put me down on the side of just surrendering to the knowledge that it’s impossible to read everything I’d love. But I’ll try! And focused book reviewers whose taste agree with mine are to my mind the single most important aid for the attempt.

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