We were kind of excited when we found out that tomorrow was International Science Fiction Reshelving Day, in which an army of guerilla book lovers were going to go into bookstores and smuggle science fiction books by authors like Margeret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Kurt Vonnegut into the "science fiction" section of the store. Sure, it might cause some confusion and consternation, but it would also draw attention to the artificiality of those boundaries.
(Of course, I still think it was nifty when our local bookstore reorganized the books according to spine color — and I found some great books I'd never have known about as a result.)
But it turns out ISFRD has been canceled. The movement is over, before it even began. The ISFRD blog offers a few reasons, among them:
It hides from mainstream fans the SF books they might actually read.
A key part of my thinking for this had been to get the attention of non-SF readers and make them realize that they might already like SF and not even realize it. I hoped this would lead them to try other SF books. Essentially, I wanted to make Margaret Atwood into a gateway drug. Well, we won't get anyone hooked on SF if we hide their first fix.
It has also been pointed out, correctly, that it is hypocritical of me to want to move these books while arguing against a single catch-all fiction section on the ground that it would make it hard for me to find what I want. I am guilty as charged.
It will annoy and frustrate booksellers.
Contrary to what many people might think, I am not unsympathetic to bookstores and their employees. I love bookstores and always have. When I was growing up, the bookstore landscape consisted on B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, the occasional independent bookstore (I loved a place called Lauriats), and used bookstores that my parents never wanted to visit. Going in to Boston or Cambridge to a larger bookstore was a treat. So, while I do find myself frustrated when I see The Lathe of Heaven in the general fiction section, I also understand that my complaint is not with the booksellers or even the publishers or authors, but with a pervasive view that SF, and genre fiction in general, is somehow inferior to mainstream fiction. If the booksellers are not the root of the problem, they should not bear the brunt of any attack on that problem.
There's tons of food for thought here — and it's well worth reading the entire blog post explaining the cancellation of tomorrow's festivities. In particular, in the longest section, organizer John Leavitt claims that he's come around to the viewpoint that there is a fundamental difference in the mode of storytelling between "mainstream" fiction and science fiction — one is about understanding ourselves, the other is about understanding the world and asking "What if."
(For what it's worth, I think I disagree — there may be differences in approach, but the best SF books are usually about understanding people, and the best "literary" books include a hefty dose of trying to understand how the world works, and how it could work differently.)
In any case, there won't be any incursions into bookstores' "fiction" sections tomorrow, at least if the original instigator has anything to say about it. But meanwhile, even if ISFRD never happens, it's still given me a lot to think about.