Saturday, July 18, 2009

ReaderCon Part One- And A Sad Note

I have a lot to say about ReaderCon but I want to start by noting the passing of Charles N. Brown, the publisher, editor and co-founder of Locus, a prominent magazine in the genre. Brown was also a speaker and moderator on several panels I attended and while I was not familiar with him before this weekend, he struck me as an incredibly knowledgeable, passionate and dignified advocate of science fiction and fantasy literature, and I am sure he will be missed. You can read the notice of his passing in Locus here.

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This past weekend my husband and I attended ReaderCon, an annual convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy literature. This year was the first time I attended the convention, as I don't really read a lot of genre fiction. It occurred over the same weekend as the annual conference of the American Library Association, and since I was unable to attend ALA I went to ReaderCon as a kind of consolation prize- and because I hoped to learn something new and familiarize myself with current trends in science fiction and fantasy writing.

I attended sessions on Friday only; our schedule did not permit us to attend either Saturday or Sunday. Nevertheless, after 9+ hours of science fiction and fantasy programming, I got some good information- I certainly got pages and pages of notes!

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The first session I attended was on psychology and science fiction, a talk by Robin Abrahams, the Boston Globe's "Miss Conduct" advice columnist and author of Miss Conduct's Mind Over Manners. (She and I also have a personal connection in that her husband is a client and friend of my husband's, but she and I have not met.) You can also read her blog at www.robinabrahams.com. The subject of her talk was, broadly speaking, how personality influences what we read and how genre helps us to interpret the stories we read as well as ambiguous events in our own lives. During a study she did for her Ph.D. thesis on personality and literary genre, she discovered two divisions in literature- realism (i.e. books oriented towards real life and ordinary people, such as self-help) and escapism, which she says is defined by the relationship of the book to the reader. If the reader feels he or she is smarter than the book, then the book qualifies as escapist. She broke personality types into five main dimensions and through her research, aligned them with traits and preferred reading:
  • Introverts/Extroverts- Extroverts tend not to like "classic" literature;
  • Neurotics- the least predictive of the personality types, there is no clear correspondence with genre here;
  • Conscientious/dutiful people- Conscientious people gravitate towards mysteries and books with clear good/bad guys, where the good are rewarded and the bad are caught or punished;
  • Agreeable people- Agreeable people gravitate away from horror;
  • People open to experience- People who rate as open to experience tend to gravitate to science fiction and other speculative fictions.
I find this topic extremely interesting and I could probably write a book with my own, rather less scientific, observations and opinions. At the very least the topic merits its own blog post! What do you think of all this? Do you find that people you know fit this model or not? Do you think literary taste is in part a function of personality type?

I certainly fit the model; I'm an introvert and I love the classics. But I also know science fiction fans who are extremely narrow-minded, and sweethearts who relish gory fiction. I'm sure that literary taste is in some way determined or influenced by personality- it only makes sense. What a fascinating subject to think on and study.

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I think I'm going to leave off for now. I'll post again in a day or two with more. There's just so much to talk about!

8 comments:

Kelly @ The Novel Bookworm said...

Probably no hard and fast rules, I'm sort of introverted, but not much for the classics,(too shallow) other than that, I think I might be an agreeable, yet conscientious neurotic, open to new experiences, unless I'm having an off day...then..I'm not!!

iwriteinbooks said...

I love personality studies. I, though, am just another extrovert for the good hard classics. Of course, I'm more of a Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald fan than say, Austen or Bronte, but still.

debnance said...

What does it say about me that I read everything? :-)

I probably shouldn't analyze this too much.

Nymeth said...

I was sad to hear about Charles N. Brown too :( I've always loved Locus.

About the study, I think that yes, our personality does influence our taste in books, but I always tend to take those studies with a grain of salt, at least before looking at the methodology up close. But I did quit psychology after four year because there was so much I couldn't agree with, so I have my own biases :P

Marie said...

Wow- this is such an interesting post!

I really think I do not fit into any of these catagories though.

I do like classics and am introvert but am not REALLY into them...

I'd love to know how all this was figured out scientifically. It would be fun to do a poll about this!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't agree with those categories but it sure seems like an interesting topic. (For example, I am an introvert and like classics, but my husband is a kind and agreeable extrovert, and likes classics and authors like Cormac McCarthy and movies by Trentin Tarantino!)

One other topic I'm interested in re scifi is what is the situation with African American authors. There are only a few of which I am aware. Any info on that?

And more: has the number of scifi books dealing with dystopias risen? and ecodisasters? Is fantasy taking over the genre? any info on those issues?

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Your notes about Charles N. Brown were a nice tribute. His passing must have felt more personal after being in the panel rooms with him just this past weekend.

As for "Miss Conduct"'s panel ... very interesting. Apparently I'm an agreeable introvert. Well, I consider myself more of an extrovert, and also open to experience (but I don't care for scifi or speculative fiction!)

Definitely something to think about (like Randy Cohen's column in the Times Magazine, I'm always checking my answers against Robin Abrahams :) )

Zibilee said...

I find this very interesting. I am not sure how accurate it is, but the idea that your personality influences the types of books you read is very cool to think about. I will have to ask some of my real life reading friends what types of books they enjoy most and see if the hypothesis stands true. Very interesting post!