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!