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International Science Fiction Reshelving Day — Good Idea or Bad Idea?

November 18th is International Science Fiction Reshelving Day, which attempts to fix a perceived injustice in book classification at bookstores. “When a genre fiction book is shelved as general fiction, it does a disservice…” says the FAQ. Here’s the website’s front page explanation:

Many books from our fine genre are regularly placed in the wrong section of bookstores. This not only hides the books from us, but it prevents readers of those books from discovering the rich tradition to which they belong.

On November 18th that changes. We will go to bookstores around the world and move science fiction and fantasy books from wherever they might be to their proper place in the “Science Fiction” section. We hope that this quiet act of protest will raise awareness of this problem and inspire new readers to explore our thought-provoking genre.

(November 18th is Margaret Atwood’s birthday. Get it?)

I guess I’m not as riled up about where the books are in the bookstore. And I’m not sure that readers are going to go looking in the science fiction and fantasy sections of the bookstore when they don’t find, say, Watership Down in the main fiction section. (A knowledgeable bookstore employee might think to look there.) But maybe that’s me. I’m actually surprised this isn’t swinging the other way: encourage people to put the “mainstreamy” SF/F books in the main fiction sections to broaden the SF/F readership. That’s the lament of most fans who care about classification, isn’t it?

What are your thoughts? Is this a good idea or a bad one?

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

18 Comments on International Science Fiction Reshelving Day — Good Idea or Bad Idea?

  1. Bad idea. It does a disservice to the bookstore staff and to publishers. It’s honestly the equivalent of going to the local library, taking the books, and putting them in the wrong shelves. Unless, you know, those re-shelvers volunteer to go back the next day and put the books back in their proper place. Or pay the bookstore for the expenses publishers would incur for having store placement (in the event that such a book gets re-shelved.)

  2. Its a nice idea, until its put into practice. In reality all its going to do is piss off the people who work in the bookshops affected and maybe inconvience the occasional customer.

    As for the comments about mixing genre books into the main stream… please for the love of evolution NO! My local library had a brainwave eariler this year and aboloished its scifi/fantast section (that was a real treasure trove) merging all the genres back into ‘general fiction’, it was a bloody nightmare as rather than browsing sf/fantasy to find new and interesting books I just tended to find myself looking for books I already wanted to read.

    Genre distinction is important when it comes to retail/libraries, it makes browsing far easier and that promotes casual buying/lending, lump everything together and many people will just do as I did in my local library :(.

    Fortunately after some campaigning and speaking to staff the policy at my local library has been reversed… The intention was right, they were trying to break down the genre barriers… instead what they are trying (an idea that I did discuss with staff) was putting up displays for the likes Harry Potter / Terry Pratchett / Stephen King e.t.c. and stocking them with similar novels that hadn’t ‘mainstreamed’ under the banner of try something similar and telling people which genre sections these novels had come from. I think this scheme is working (although they haven’t analysed the datas yet) because I have noticed the main library (of which mine is a branch library) which has newly re-openned is doing something very similar.

  3. Joshua Corning // October 29, 2009 at 4:14 am //

    This is embarrassing to watch.

    Anyway amazon classifies books 20 billion different ways….and anyone who expects book stores to last much longer i would like to sell you a travel agency.

    ….and if you enjoy reading new work you should never go to a library. Personally i find government spending tax money to steal the business of a dying industry sort of sickening. Pay the people who write the things that you enjoy reading.

  4. When I first read this, I thought it meant that people were being encouraged to put SF titles in with general fiction (ala Andy’s library). I find it ironic that this group is trying to reinforce what book publishers first forced on us in the first half of the 20th century. Some of those writers might not like being put back into the ghetto.

  5. “Its a nice idea, until its put into practice.”

    I agree.  It’s a fun idea and made me laugh when I read about it.  But my son works in a book store.  It wouldn’t be fun at all in real life.

  6. As someone who works at a bookstore this is definitely a bad idea.  We already have enough trouble finding books that have been misfiled due to laziness, incompetence or whatever (and this, unfortunately, goes for  staff as well as customers).  We don’t have time to look through all the shelves to put books back where they belong (and that’s if we notice they’re in the wrong spot to begin with).  And anyone who’s gone to a library or bookstore looking for something and been unable to find it knows how frustrating that can be.  PLEASE, don’t purposely ruin other peoples’ day.  While I don’t always with book placement (and sometimes fight to get them changed) it’s not worth it.  That’s one reason I do themed endcaps and reading lists – to show people the books from other areas of the store they might like but aren’t aware of.

  7. Joshua, did a librarian shoot your dog or something?

  8. euphrosyne // October 29, 2009 at 11:23 am //

    I’ve worked at a bookstore so I have sympathy with the “think of the poor booksellers” angle, but that’s not the “big idea” John is asking after.

    This is thinly veiled territorialism, flowered up retrospectively with pretty motives (perhaps the founder should pursue a career in politics?) and it actually works contrary to purpose.

    The failure is the disconnect between purpose and effect. How exactly will you “inspire new readers to explore our thought-provoking genre,” when you take all of “our” books out of “their” section? They aren’t going to magically wander into the SF shelves unless they are already SF readers.

    The other stated goal, of reclaiming the books “they hide from us,” is pathetic on its face. Are we SF readers just as parochial as the “others”? Maybe we should consider reading from the non-genre stacks if we’re asking the reverse from others?

    In the end, this is a poor solution to a non-problem. If anything, SF/F is on a hugely ascendent trajectory in popular awareness these days. Screwing up bookstores and libraries only serves to reinforce the stereotype of SF fans being the goobers that apparently some of us really are.

  9. @ Joshua – Whats your beef with libraries, and how on earth do you work out that you can’t find ‘new works’ in libraries? My local (and area) library obviously has an ardent scifi fan in its ordering department (or someone who reserves 3 or 4 copies at a time), I have been gleefully happy for the last 2 years as new scifi book after new scifi book and new scifi author after new scifi author has appeared on the shleves of my local library. I have also found it to be an excellent souce of ‘new to me’ novels and authors.

  10. “….and if you enjoy reading new work you should never go to a library. Personally i find government spending tax money to steal the business of a dying industry sort of sickening. Pay the people who write the things that you enjoy reading.”

    Joshua: Libraries do pay for the books, and that pays the writers, too.  Libraries can result in hundreds to thousands of direct sales of a given book and have an immeasurable impact on future sales (the more copies checked out of one particular book means that the library is more likely to buy future books from that writer, not to mention the future sales made from people who first discover an author in the library and then buy everything he or she has ever written). 

    Besides that, I think we’re culturally richer for having libraries with programs for adults and children. 

    Outside of the basic civil services my tax money provides, one of the uses of my tax money that I’m the happiest about is Hennepin County spending it on our excellent library system.  I’m better off because of it. 

    And now to stop railroading the topic at hand…

    I think it’s a bad idea, too, and would likely result in decreased sales when consumers can’t find the book they are looking for in the section they expect to find it in. 

    If anything, I think booksellers should consider shelving certain volumes in both general fiction AND SFF, if they have the space for it.  I could see the potential for increased sales that way because it is increased exposure. 

  11. In theory, I love this idea if only because it’s going to annoy the ‘literary’ writers like Margaret Atwood, who clearly writes SF, but doesn’t acknowledge it, and in fact, criticizes SF.  In practice, no, it’s not a very good idea.  It’s only going to annoy the paying public.

  12. Okay – here’s my thought.

    Years ago, there was a movie coming out.  Lot’s of hype about it, the internet was all a twitter (before there was a twitter), and I was curious.

    It was called ‘Interview with the Vampire’.  I’d never read it.  Determined to check it out before the movie, I went to the book store to find it.  Me being me, I don’t ask directions.  It’s not a male thing as much as it’s a me thing.  Anyway, I go off on my own and I look where I think the book will be: SciFi & Fantasy cuz, in my mind – Vampires=supernatural=Scifi & fantasy -right?

    Wrong.  Wasn’t there.  Thought to myself – ‘Maybe under horror?’  Problem was – there was no horror.

    Okay – so, I regrouped for a moment and decided that it’s probably off in ‘Fiction’ with the Tom Clancy books.  Tromped off over there to find it.  Wrong again.  Not a thing from this ‘Anne Rice’ character to be found under ‘Fiction’.  Stumped, I had to go ask for help.

    “I’m looking for ‘Interview with a Vampire’. Which section would that be in?”

    “Literature,” the clerk answered.

    This made absolutely no sense whatsoever to me. It was about Vampires! (back when they were evil and cool, not young and tortured)

    Fast forward easily fifteen years (or more).  I read something about a retelling of the King Arthur story by someone named Jack Whyte.  ‘The Skystone’ was the 1st in a new series detailing Arthur’s story.  Intrigued, I went to find it.

    Now, where would YOU look for a book about King Arthur?  Hint: It’s not where you think it is…

    Sadly, some people (usually those in positions of power), look at the labeling of something as ‘SciFi’ or ‘Fantasy’ as an evil, red mark and that’s sad.  Look at how ABC is treating their new, reboot of ‘V’ – they don’t want people associating it with ‘aliens’ or the word ‘alien’ mentioned in any of the marketing for it because they don’t want it labeled as ‘scifi’.

    IT’S ABOUT ALIENS COMING TO EARTH TO EAT US – how much more SciFi could you get?

    I say do it – reshelf.  Put things where they belong and stop pretending that, just because something is in the SciFi section, it is somehow diminished or less than its counterparts in Fiction, Romance, Mystery, Travel…



  13. Rick York // October 29, 2009 at 6:23 pm //

    Take That Margaret Atwood!!

  14. I agree with all of the reasons above that this is a bad idea.

    If the real intent here (or at least part of the intent) is to “inspire new readers to explore our thought-provoking genre” it would probably be far more effective to carry out a random act of literacy.

    Find a spare copy of your favourite SF novel (or your own old copy if you can bear to part with it) and leave it someplace public where another person might notice it, pick it up, thumb through it out of curiosity, and maybe, just maybe read the damn thing and want to read more.

    A random act of literacy certainly won’t inconvenience some poor bookstore worker or librarian who would have to reshelve moved books, and it won’t force them to endure the complaints of some pompous literati wannabe who can’t find Maggie Atwood’s (does anyone else think she looks shockingly like Sir John A Macdonald?) latest SF slum trip where it “ought” to be. The worst that could happen would be that it would get tossed in a lost&found bin or perhaps (unfortunately) in the garbage.

    But at least there’s a chance it would get picked up and read (if only maybe by another SF fan) and do some good, rather than pissing people off and sitting forgotten in a corner of the bookstore where the people you want to read it will never go.


  15. Against it.

    Stores shelf things in a particular place so they can track them, check stock, etc.  You may disagree about it, but given what sells, the stores stock and layout they place them in a way which helps to move inventory and keep the store in business.

    When a customer asks for a book and the employees can’t find it because it’s been mis-shelved – that’s potentially a sale lost and potentially a customer lost for the store.

    Losing sales for authors in a genre you support and for bookstores is doubly wrong.


  16. I get their point, but their plan is conceived over a misunderstanding of how fiction is shelved these days. It’s understandable that they think fiction is shelved by content — after all, there’s a SF/F section, a mystery section, romance, and what not.

    But fiction is actually shelved according to who publishes it, especially if the publisher pays for extras. So if a book comes in from Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House, it goes automatically in General Fiction, no matter what kind of novel it is. If the book comes from Del Rey, the SFF imprint of Random House, it goes in the SF/F section, no matter what style or format it uses or whether it has spaceships or not. If the book comes from Doubleday, which is a sub-company of Random House, and Doubleday pays for a special end of shelf display in SF/F, it goes in SF/F, but if not, it goes in General Fiction, or if Doubleday pays for the front table displays, it goes in the front table and other sections may not even be an issue, and so on. The book itself doesn’t matter; most of the staff will never have read the book because they can’t read 20,000 novels a year. They just file it by who sent it in.

    The only difference between category SF/F and general fiction SF/F is who publishes it. Margaret Atwood doesn’t get to decide where her books go in the store, and what she puts in her novels that are SF is irrelevent. Jonathan Lethem’s Gun with Occasional Music was early on published by Tor and so was put in the SF/F section. Now it’s published by Harcourt/Mariner, and it goes in general fiction.

    Further, moving, say, The Road to SFF is first off not going to throw anybody off for long, and second, the casual buyer who’s not immediately interested in SFF but is interested in buying The Road isn’t going to care if the book is in the SFF section or the general fiction section. But if they read The Road and like The Road, then some of them will come back and read other novels by the author and another small percentage will actually check out the SF/F section for more SF.

    What would make a lot more sense is if they took SFF books they liked — content irrelevent — and stuck them on the front tables the publishers usually have to pay for. They’d get moved back, but before they did, someone might notice and buy some of them. But mostly it just makes SFF fans look like some petty tribe on a rampage, which does not encourage new people to go into the SF/F section of the bookstore or to want to join what seems like a weird and angry tribe.

    Dissing Atwood is less effective than converting her and those who like her stuff. Start with explaining that bookstores don’t stock their shelves according to literary criticism.




  17. I take it this means you want me to quit putting Kayne West CD’s in with Polkas and Chris Brown with Musical Soundtracks.  Those men just irritate me to bits so this reshelving issue is interesting to me.  I read lots of different types of books but when I am interested in a new Sci-Fi,  I don’t want to have to dig through piles of mystery/cozies to find one.  Sometimes I just wander the store looking for something/anything interesting but othertimes I just need a new fantasy.

  18. I’ve seen a bookstore (in Hong Kong) display major books in both places. That increases the likelyhood that non-genre-fans will discover them, and at the same time allows genre fans to find it by browsing.


    In fact, IMO, science fiction and fantasy are not genres in the same sense that drama, comedy, mystery, romance, war are; SF and fantasy are sets of tropes and narrative devices, which (at least when well used) produce stories that can more properly be classified as drama, comedy, mystery, etc. What’s the difference between Dune (book, not series) and Gone With the Wind? The original Foundation trilogy and Clavell’s Asian Saga? On the other side of the coin, you don’t find, eg, The Witches of Eastwick in fantasy, because it’s an Updike novel; if it was written by an unknown, one-hit author, it would be fantasy. (Or horror?) Just sayin’.

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