Alternative RA advice to give when someone asks for a book “Just like ____”

This week’s guest author is Emily Mathews, a casual librarian at both the West Vancouver Memorial Library and the North Vancouver City Library. This posting is an excerpt of an Independent Study that was done on Romance and the reading practices of Teens. However, for today’s purposes, we’ll be focusing on Fan Fiction as possible options for Readers’ Advisory.

16068905If anyone has recently read the new YA (and arguably also a “New Adult” genre) bestseller Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, they now are aware of the huge readership of fan fiction (aka fanfic). To many reading Fangirl, and who read fanfic, Fangirl read like a story of their own high-school/early college life. Fanfic is a genre that is closely personal to many readers, because they either a) read them because they love the characters of their favorite books so much, or b) they write them because they love the characters of their favorite books so much. In either case, it’s because they love the characters of books so much they want to see what happens next, even if it’s not “official”.

Reading and human interactions with literary narratives has evolved to where a reader wants to expand and enhance their reading experience using resources available on the World Wide Web (Dalsgaard 128). In Inger Dalsgaard’s essay in the book Internet Fictions, she states that, 

The first decade of the twenty-first century has added a personal social dimension to its digital advances. In addition to interactive information and communication technology (ICT) – such as blogging, chat and texting – we are also seeing an explosive growth in so-called Web 2.0 services – internet-based social network sites such as Facebook, Youtube, Myspace – which indicate three trends: focus on the self,  public display and elective social affinities….When readers publish such “peri-narratives” – additional narratives which surround, respond to, and comment on the original or “canon” narrative but are not necessarily fictional – they create and put on display a bond between themselves and the text. (128)

This bond between the reader and the text is an important concept to understand when examining fan fiction. Rather than being mindless consumers and reproducers of popular media and culture, people who write fan fiction are actively engaging and participating in the author’s works: creating their own robust characterizations and literary practices while also participating and interacting in a social, online community.

Writing fan fiction is not a new concept. Virgil’s The Aeneid was a story based on a secondary character from Homer’s works: the concept of fan fiction is even present in 29 B.C. (Greiser 8). However, it was the advent of the internet that changed the scope of the genre and enabled such a large number of people to participate in the expanding online community. In the 1930s fan fiction appeared in amateur fan magazines known as fanzines which, at the time, were largely read by Trekkers—Star Trek fans—who not only read, discussed, and contributed to the magazines, but also attended annual sci-fi conventions or local fan clubs in order to be a part of this social (and largely literary) community. However, when online web sites appeared supporting ‘free publishing’, fan fiction underwent a massive transformation. Firstly, instead of it being adults producing the majority of hardcopy fanzines, in addition to organizing large fan conventions, we begin to see a large influx of technologically savvy, young adults involve themselves in this developing online community by writing and publishing fan fictions on personal and fan websites. The anonymity of being on an online community appear to also have encouraged young adults – allowing them to gain confidence and start publishing a proliferation of fan fictions to a large and supporting community. Furthermore, the development of online fan fiction allowed for a diversification of canons (the original media that the fictions are based on).

The most interesting thing about online fan fiction is that the majority of it is romantically based. In Roberta Grandi’s essay “Web Side Stories: Janeites, Fanfictions, and Never Ending Romances” she talks about the reader’s desire to perpetuate a story’s plot and characters further than the original work. Fan fiction is a way for readers to explore romantic relations and plots from a beloved book (or other medium) further and interact with a group of people who are also invested in the storyline.

One of the major fan fiction trends with young adults is writing fiction on Japanese anime (Japanese animated TV shows/movies) and manga (Japanese graphic novels). Currently, manga and anime is one of Japan’s most important cultural exports and has reached international popularity. Popular anime and manga frequently are the subject of romantic fan fiction: for example, Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Sailor Moon, Inuyasha, Pokemon, are just a few examples where the characters are re-written to end up with another favourite character or even extend the original storyline. Other extremely popular fan fiction universes that exist are Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Torchwood, Dr. Who, Jane Austen, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Interestingly, the romances written about the characters in all of these universes range from heterosexual to homosexual relationships and thus allows us and readers to re-examine normative constructions of gender and romance; thus, often allowing fan fiction writers to construct narratives that subvert gender and gender norms. The popularity of slash fiction (homosexual relationships, usually male) is intriguing as it allows the participants in that online community to explore the LGBT topics in a safe and supportive environment. Even more interesting is that most slash fiction is written by young female fans (one of the interesting plot lines of Fangirl). An interesting argument, is that this allows women to construct narratives where they can challenge the “patriarchy by reappropriating those prototypical hero characters that usually reproduce women’s position of social disempowerment” (Black 13).

Self-publishing has become a phenomena within young adult literature. It is my opinion that there is a direct correlation between the popularity of fan fiction and the rise and popularity of the self-publishing and regular publishing industry online. Popular author Cassandra Clare who wrote the best-selling Immortal Instruments series originally started as a popular Harry Potter fan fiction writer on Fanfiction.netPrincess Diaries author Meg Cabot began writing by writing Star Wars fan fiction. Best-selling author Tamora Pierce also is known to have started her writing career by writing fan fictions of her favourite books as a child.

However, I believe that the influence fan fiction has on the publishing industry goes further than just acting as a ‘practice-round’ for fledgling authors. The rise and popularity of New Adult fiction has close-knit ties to the fan fiction community. Authors who try to publish their work in the mainstream publishing industry but fail due to its ‘inappropriateness’, turn to these online communities to publish their work to an audience that are open and receptive to works that subvert gender and sexual norms. These online communities are so receptive, and the feedback is so popular, that it has actively gotten publishing scouts scouring online fan fiction and literary communities such as, and for potential ‘diamonds in the rough’ that are publishable. This is how the International best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey series was born—and this is not the only instance. Author S.U. Pacat developed such a large readership online for her online romantic (M/M) serial Captive Prince that publishing giant, Penguin, recently bought the rights to publish the online fiction series in both eBook and hardcopy form. And this is just a small example of what type of romantic teen/coming-of-age stories are being sold online—to examine them all would be impossible; however, Rebecca Black, author of Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction, sums this up quite accurately:

Online fan fiction is now a ubiquitous literacy phenomenon that is difficult to overlook. There are hundreds of thousands of online Web sites devoted to fan fiction based on every media genre available. Moreover, these fictions are being written, read, and discussed by youth from across the globe. With the rapid proliferation of networked information and communication technologies (ICTs) and online youth spaces, there is a need for literacy educators to become acquainted with and potentially integrate elements of adolescents out-of-school literate practices and existing technological competencies into classroom instruction and activity. [emphasis added] (Black xiv).

As is indicated by the overwhelming proliferation of romantic fan fiction online that teens are reading, and also by the literature here and the evidence of a plethora of romantic self-published works online;  we can see that teen romance and the online community have a close and intricate relationship with each other.

Lover-at-Last-the-black-dagger-brotherhood-31753911-639-960SO!! To conclude, if anyone comes up to you saying how they “loooooved” J.R. Ward’s Lover’s AtLast (popular paranormal romance author who finally wrote the long awaited gay love story of two of her most beloved characters) and want “anything similar”, you might think of fan fiction as a possible alternative and recommend checking online fan fiction sites.

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About emblebee

I am a a graduate student from the University of Western Ontario with a Masters in Library and Information Science degree. I have a BA from the University of British Columbia in History and Art History. I am currently an on-call Librarian for two libraries on the North Shore in British Columbia and have a couple of blogs or postings about Readers' Advisory, a class I was taking on Young Adult literature, or about my experiences in Japan from 2008-2009. Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Alternative RA advice to give when someone asks for a book “Just like ____”

  1. Jen

    I have (gleefully) fallen down the rabbit hole of fanfic a number of times. New book on order for our library: Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison (2013)


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