Contrary to what the name sounds like, "Boy Fiction" is not a cross between a librarian and Batman's sidekick. It's the label that a NYT reviewer gave to the work of author George R.R. Martin - specifically A Game of Thrones (the book currently being translated into an HBO series of the same name.) In all fairness to the article, the commentary was critiquing the HBO show for containing content that the reviewer did not appreciate (sexual content), but one paragraph of the article rather offended me:
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.I should state that I have not seen the show - nor do I currently subscribe to HBO - but I have read (and loved) A Game of Thrones. Martin's work is written for mature audiences and there are scenes of both sex and violence, which I imagine were translated to film with all the gratuitousness I would predict for a show with a TV-MA rating. Had the story been sanitized for a lower rating, fans would likely protest. The book is not written as a neat, tidy saga - it's rough, gritty, intense, passionate, violent, shocking, and bloody. There are heroes and villains, lovers and killers with every character playing multiple roles and written in brilliant shades of gray. That's how Martin wrote it. That's the work that captured my attention and drew me into reading thousands of pages of sequels.
And yet, the review article seems to imply that HBO expanded the sex and romance solely to attract female viewers. I'm both appalled and offended at the idea that the stereotype still exists that women don't - or won't - enjoy high fantasy and that this genre remains classified as "boy fiction". As far as the book club analogy goes, I must admit that I've never even heard of Lorrie Moore (if anyone wants to recommend one of her works I'll gladly add it to my TBR list) and would definitely suggest the works of J.R.R. Tolkien to any group of readers I interact with. Perhaps this is why, despite my bibliophilic proclivities, I have never actually been invited to join a book club.
But there are plenty of women who enjoy fantasy and other works of so-called "boy fiction". I know lots of them; I read with them; I am one of them. One of my current reading challenges is a reread of the Song of Ice and Fire books in anticipation of the July release of book five, A Dance with Dragons. I read A Game of Thrones five years ago and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around when I finished it last month. George R.R. Martin's popularity is not because he writes for a certain gender, it is because he writes good books. He is a masterful storyteller, and the beauty of A Game of Thrones lies in his weaving together multiple genres. The Song of Ice and Fire series is about family as much as politics, it is about battle as well as relationships, adventure as well as horror, mystery, fantasy, and romance. Martin composes stories with characters that are realistic - they are fallible heroes, sympathetic villains, and even minor characters with subplots that capture the reader's attention. They live and they die in tales that seem to be writing themselves. The saga unfolds more as a history of some distant, ancient land - one that occasionally mirrors modern political themes - rather than just a made up realm of bedtime stories.
So why is an epic story like this limited to the enjoyment of men? Why should a well written love story be classified as for women? I know statistics will show that the majority of fantasy readers are male, but perhaps more ladies would be inclined to explore the genre if that trend was not so publicly reinforced. Good books are good books, and I don't believe they should be recommended to one gender over the other. Readers should be encouraged to explore and expand their horizons rather than being pigeonholed into a certain type of book that is expected of them. When I was younger, I followed in the reading footsteps of my older sisters eagerly reaching for their R.L. Stine Fear Street series and L.J. Smith's Vampire Diaries, and though I enjoyed the thriller suspense and paranormal stories, I think I really began devouring books when my brother suggested I try out Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance Chronicles. Though I liked mystery and suspenseful fiction, I loved fantasy; and when my cousin first lent me his copy of R.A. Salvatore's The Crystal Shard I knew I was hooked.
My reading tastes expanded as I got older and I now find that there are few genres I don't love, but I know that I never would have become the passionate reader that I am had fantasy books been kept from me based on my gender. To label such books as "boy fiction" seems a needless stereotype, and I would hate to have other young readers feel a stigma attached to works that could blossom their love of books. What do others think about the gender-genre linkage? Are these classifications helpful or hazardous to matching readers to books they'll enjoy? Any other women like me that enjoy "boy fiction"? Any men that enjoy stories generally aimed at women?