Taking a pause from consuming vast quantities of food to consider the concept of literary fiction versus genre fiction, and shake my head sadly at the fools who continue to act as though there is a big difference and that literary is massively superior in some way.
As it happened, someone decided to post on a forum I frequent about his/her discomfort with the amount of writers posting to said forum who were interested in fantasy writing. To whit they asked if the forum was only for “teen fantasy writers”, who write massively inferior fiction that “entertains” but doesn’t achieve the level of the greats like Hemingway and Hardy. This, of course, was guaranteed to create a shit storm of backlash, and did, and I happily took part in the hullabaloo that followed (who can resist a good hullabaloo now and again, I ask). Much back and forth followed with the troll stating that only books that had won the Pulitzer could be considered “great” and that proved that genre fiction wasn’t great because it had never won a Pulitzer. To which I then pointed out “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy which won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2007. Point to me, the exception disproves the rule.
The argument then narrowed in on entertainment. I tried to point out that MOST (not all) literary fiction also is designed mostly to entertain, not get to the deeper roots of life, liberty and the pursuit of what it is to be human. The troll retorted with a list of 100 greatest novels and then suggested I point out even 10% that are only for entertainment. Well, of course, as I said… MOST does, but the 100 greatest novels are going to be the ones that do more than entertain.
And here is where it gets really interesting. Because that 100 greatest novels list included: #5, Brave New World; #13 1984; #31, Animal Farm; #56, The Maltese Falcon; #65, a Clockwork Orange. Among others. Every single one of those is genre fiction, either fantasy or science fiction or mystery. One of the top 5 novels of all time is a science fiction novel. Debate over, I’m a winner (as I knew I would be).
The argument between literary and genre is long and ridiculous. Great literature is not always set in the “real world” and deals with “real world” concerns. Great literature is about people, their relationships, their reactions to the world around them. There are great writers in every genre, from “literary” to “science fiction” to “mystery” and on and on. Ursala K. LeGuin is well known for her incredibly science fiction and fantasy writing, but she was nominated for a Pulitzer for her collection of “literary” short stories. Does that imply her other writing was any less good? No, it make a stronger case for those who decide the Pulitzer needing to broaden their horizons more and not being so narrow about their choices.
My view is that there are only two genres in writing, period. Writing about characters and their relationships with others; and writing about stuff that happens to characters. A good book will have both elements, but some books focus on the former much more than the later, and some reverse that. Any fiction can do either way, and sometimes the settings and wildly different. Sometimes the setting is the past, or the future, or a totally made-up world. Sometimes the characters are solving mysteries or dealing with creatures that aren’t human. But the setting and the plot don’t make or break a novel, prevent it from rising above others that have similar backdrops to the characters.
The fight between genre and literary is a ridiculous construct, useless in its high browed, stuck up, hoity toity nonsense. Great literature is great literature, regardless of the genre. Those who wish to segregate them are no different than those who claim they are superior by right of their religious beliefs. “Christianity is sooooo much better than Islam or atheism!” It’s no different than claiming a real estate mogul is somehow more important a profession than a steel worker. “Donald Trump built something for this world!” None of it is true, its bullshit designed to separate and segregate us and make one group feel superior to another.
The next time you buy a science fiction, fantasy, mystery or horror novel, lift your head high. You could very well be buying great literature.
Now back to my ongoing quest to eat “all the things!” and pass out in a food coma.