Or: The utility of occasionally judging books by their covers
My nearest local library recently closed for an 18-month renovation project, leaving me with a sudden distressing lack of access to fiction I hadn’t already read. (Not that I’m averse to rereading books, since my policy is not to buy it if I don’t want to read it more than once, but sometimes I do want something new.) The solution was obvious: place an Amazon order.
I was quite pleased with my Amazon order. I ended up with books from 3 new fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction series, all of which turned out to be good. Two of them had similar themes: a female main character mediating between members of different supernatural races. This would seem to put them definitively in the fantasy category, urban fantasy if you want to be even more specific. One series, the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, has three books so far that all follow a murder mystery storyline, which the main character ends up needing to solve for the werewolf, vampire, and fae communities respectively. The other series, the Negotiator Trilogy by CE Murphy, is more like Law & Order meets the supernatural realm, because the main character is a lawyer with a strong tie to the police detective who inevitably ends up investigating all the crimes involving the gargoyles, vampires, and so forth that the lawyer is trying to negotiate with.
But this post is not actually meant to be a book review. This post is meant to be a rant. Because what did purchasing these books from Amazon cause to happen? It caused me to get an Amazon ad in my email telling me that based on my purchasing habits, they think it is clear that I would enjoy the following titles on the vampire romance theme. Their algorithm tells them that I am now a woman who reads vampire romances. And I object.
Mostly I object because instead of just deleting the email right away, I actually scrolled down to see if they had actually turned up interesting books under an unfortunately termed group heading. No, no they had not. What they had sent me were suggestions of books with covers clearly indicating that they were romances that happened to have vampires as love interests for added flavor. They had titles written in cutesy curlicue fonts, and cartoon-y drawings of women’s feet in high heels, or overblown couples looking rapturous. Some of them even had hearts sprinkled on them. And punny names playing on blood and kissing. Now behold, if you would, the covers of the books I read.
The Mercy Thompson novels:
The Negotiator Trilogy:
Now, while I’ll admit that the Mercy Thompson covers tend to make the main character appear a bit more buxom than necessary, she is still depicted as a tattooed mechanic who seems like she can handle herself (although maybe she should wear more clothes.) I also like the fact that the covers of the books add more and more tattoos, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the books; the pawprint on her stomach is the only one ever mentioned, so I doubt the other ones are anything more than artistic license on the part of the cover artist. But still! Tough girl.
The Negotiator books don’t get to look quite as tough, since the main character is a petite lawyer rather than a car mechanic, but even so, they do manage to get across the feeling of “here is a lone woman doing something probably dangerous.” Both series convey that the story will focus on the main character. In both cases, the main characters are women. Neither woman is swooning, or leaning on a vampire’s arm, or baring the neck rapturously. There are no i’s dotted with hearts. Even from just the covers, (you’ll have to take my word about the other ones, I deleted the message before it occurred to me that it might be otherwise useful, but take a walk down the romance aisle the next time you’re in a bookstore and you’ll get the idea,) these are not books in the same category.
So why are they being categorized as romances? Presumably because both of these main characters have relationships that feature prominently in side-plots. And I admit that I enjoyed those side-plots. But they were side-plots, not, I repeat, NOT the main plot. Why were they even in the books? Because these are books featuring adult main characters, and the only fiction books I can think of that I’ve read lately that contained no elements of romance for the main character featured characters who were monks, nuns, or rather misogynistic detectives of bygone eras.
I admit that this mostly stuck out to me because it was the most off-target thing I’d ever gotten from Amazon, aside from the ones that I get because some other customer was buying both textbooks and fiction in the same order, so I end up with the suggestion that I might like a history of the Anglo-Saxons because I bought a mystery starring an ex-military policeman-turned-hobo. Normally I get suggestions that are too on-target and I’ve already read the books. But what about the rest of you out there on the internet? Ever run into amusingly mismatched suggestions?
-posted by Dana