Jessewave wrote a post at her highly influential site about the frustration she and her reviewers are experiencing with respect to the decline in quality of m/m books. The post is blunt and the comment thread is long, but if you read m/m, it’s well worth reading both.
Like Wave, I find myself reading fewer and fewer m/m books, despite the fact that my pleasure in finding a good one hasn’t decreased. There are a number of reasons.
(1) It’s hard to find books that are properly edited, and the rise of self-published books has exacerbated the problem. Given that my TBR has plenty of well-edited books, I’d rather not be frustrated while I’m reading for pleasure.
(2) It’s harder to use publishers to sort through the mass of releases. Well-established presses’ development and copyediting have declined, the fastest-growing seems to have imploded, and the biggest has, um, ethical issues. Not to mention it doesn’t seem to edit its “stars” at all. Some smaller and newer presses have much better business practices and production values, but they publish fewer books and specialize in sub-genres that don’t interest me.
(3) I can’t tell the provenance of a book and I can’t be sure anymore that it’s original fiction. More and more fan fiction is being published. I’ve talked before (and will talk again) about why I find reading published fan fiction problematic, and if I can’t be sure something is original I’m much less likely to buy it. At this point the only presses I’m sure about are a few small presses. All the big presses (including ones I used to trust) have hopped on the fanfic gravy train.
(4) I’m tired of the woman-bashing. Women are evil plot devices, BFFs of the narrator/main character who exist to be sounding boards or comic relief. Generally they can’t get a date or you don’t want them to. It’s lazy, stereotypical writing and no mature genre with standards would put up with it. And that’s if there are women in the books at all. I just finished a short novel in which there are no on-page women. Granted, that may be because the entire word count was taken up by sex scenes, but having no women in a contemporary romance is quite a feat.
Both male and female authors (of a variety of QUILTBAG orientations) engage in woman-bashing. But while women writers are criticized for it, male writers are called out much less frequently. All too often, gay male authors are valorized as something special whether their work is good or not, whether they insult their readership (which is majority female) or not. Recent examples, all of which are from my preferred sub-genre, contemporary m/m romance:
- A bestselling, highly praised book featured the closeted MC having meaningless sex with different women. None of these women were given names, even if they appeared more than once in the story. In the first half of the book, the only two women whose names the reader ever learned were related to one of the MCs.
- A highly rated book by a genre favorite uses the word “vagina” numerous times to refer to women. There is no m/f sex in the book; it is just used as an ugly metaphor. And in this same book, if you are a black woman character, your conversation is rendered in ghetto-speak.
- A novel about writing an m/m novel depicts the loyal readership of women as only wanting to read about sex (so as long as the book has sex in it, they’ll be loyal).
Why the hell should I read books that treat me like this? I’m not that hard up for reading material, and I don’t dislike myself enough to pay to be insulted. I have no idea why authors write this way. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’m reading books, not psychoanalyzing authors I don’t know and don’t want to know. It’s well known that m/m has a pretty fannish reading/writing culture and I don’t think it helps the genre, but there’s not much I can do about it. But I find it disheartening that so many readers can gush about books that depict women like themselves as foolish, desperate, pathetic, and worse. If a woman character in a book exists only to make fun of or as an unsubtle Evil Obstacle, dump the book and ask for your money back.
Luckily, there are still writers of good, thoughtful books out there, to whom I’m happy to give my money and my time. And given I don’t solely read m/m, my TBR should keep me in happy reading mode for a while.
I’d just like to branch out and find some new good books, and it’s not so easy when the genre feels dominated by books with tons of sex, BDSM, and/or paranormal storylines I don’t particularly enjoy. Ah well. There are always mysteries (Michael Nava’s Henry Rios novels are finally out in ebook!). Riptide and Blind Eye Books edit carefully and they don’t have much patience for hateful portrayals of women. And online friends are helpful in making recommendations.
I haven’t followed the discussions around Wave’s post aside from the comments thread, but I’ve seen some pushback comments that she’s being too negative, or it’s a hazard of reviewing. I disagree with the former criticism because it’s Wave’s opinion and she’s entitled to express it (and she runs a huge review site so she sees a lot of books). I disagree with the latter, because I review far fewer books and I’m not running a site, but I’ve had a similar experience. But I understand that people are tired of negativity. So I probably won’t write more about this, and when people ask why I’m not reviewing as much m/m, I’ll just point them here.