The New York Times Tackles Genre vs. Literary Fiction

Being a dedicated and proud-of-it genre girl, I had to post a link to this New York Times article: Great Literature? Depends Whodunit.

The piece basically discusses “the assumption that genre fiction — mysteries, thrillers, romances, horror stories — is a form of literary slumming. These kinds of books are easier to read, we tend to think, and so they must be easier to write, and to the degree that they’re entertaining, they can’t possibly be ‘serious.’”

This type of thinking will get my dander up every time. In fact, there’s a great deal I could say regarding this matter, but McGrath – the article’s author – picked up a sound bite from Updike that will stand in pretty well, I think:

“What we look for in genre writing, Mr. Updike suggested, is exactly what the critics sometimes complain about; the predictableness of a formula successfully executed. We know exactly what we’re going to get, and that’s a seductive part of the appeal. It’s why we can read genre books so quickly and in such quantity, and happily come back for more of the same by the very same author. Such books are reassuring in a way that some other novels are not.”

There’s still a bit of a heavy hand there {“the predictableness of a formula successfully executed” – hasn’t every story, every single one, already been told? Aren’t archtypes as likely to pop up in lit fiction as in genre? So doesn’t it then stand to reason that literary fiction should be held accountable on the same grounds as well?} but he’s certainly correct in asserting that genre books are reassuring. Comforting. Reading may not always be about escapism, but the power that genre writing has to sweep readers up, and away from their own lives, the rush of a feel good book…why would anyone suggest, ever, that genre books aren’t worthy of appreciative value? Or suggest that authors who publish in that field are slumming it?

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this subject, please drop a line in the comments!

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