July 12, 2010
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I spent the extended weekend at Readercon, a conference for readers that convenes every summer in a suburban Boston hotel.

Readercon’s origins lie in science fiction and fantasy, and genre fiction remains central to the program. But the conference is nearly free of fannishness; no costumes, no actors, no toys.

Although Readercon is modeled on science fiction conventions, there is no art show, no costumes, no gaming, and almost no media. Instead, Readercon features a near-total focus on the written word. In many years the list of Readercon guests rivals or surpasses that of the Worldcon in quality. Readercon is the only small convention regularly attended by such giants of imaginative literature as Gene Wolfe, Samuel R. Delany, John Crowley, Barry N. Malzberg, Kit Reed, and Jonathan Lethem.

Most of the attendees are writers and the rest are serious readers, and panelists feel free to assume that everyone is conversant with the classics, the major 19th century writers, modernism, postmodernism, and contemporary postcolonial literature – and also with the SF canon.

One impressive sign: the audience is filled with former guests of honor, writers who were invited to draw crowds and who still show up every year to be the crowd. Contrast this to so many academic conferences, where the keynote speakers deliver their speech and depart.

The scholarship here is truly impressive. Lots of people — John Clute and Rose Fox were conspicuous standouts this year — do terrific work in understanding and explaining fine and challenging writers, past and present, and do it without enticements of fame, fortune, or tenure.

What unites this crowd of writers, I think, is a simultaneous commitment to fine, serious writing and to story. To this crowd, “mainstream” is just another genre, one that seems to have lost its way a bit but that will, if we are patient and supportive, be more productive someday. Nobody mentions Iowa, ever. And nobody holds truck with genre potboilers, which means that the American militaristic space opera is barely visible, while there’s tons of interest in things like postcolonial Caribbean fantasy.

I heard Claire Cooney do a terrific reading of a long poem (in dactylic tetrameter) about the silkie’s husband’s second wife. It’s said to be online. Can anyone give me a pointer?

I bought at least eight books. My summer readings is already booked up, and I just received Nate’s latest suggestion, a little book on The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period , just arrived at the offices and turns out to be the size of a small pony. Oh dear. A lot of these people read like demons; Rose Fox explained that when she started at Publishers Weekly she was reading a novel a day anyway, so having to do three reviews a week was a piece of cake.