Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Genre Versus Literature: Real or Imagined?

I have seen two blog posts in the last two days that both address similar issues. They are John DeNardo's Kirkus blog post "What Scares You About Science Fiction?": and Keith Rawson's LitReactor piece "Let's Face It, We All Live in the Same Creative Ghetto":

Both of these discuss the stigma of being considered a genre writer as opposed to a literary writer. I have long felt that this distinction was a bogus one, although it is true that Margaret Atwood or José Saramago might get onto mainstream talk shows, and Mercedes Lackey and Kim Stanley Robinson may not. This represents the perceptions of the larger (supposedly) non-genre world out there, but things are just as bad within genre. I heard an author who shall remain unnamed here on the blog go on and on in a convention green room about how he was pushing a large chain of book stores to move his books from the SF/F section to the "regular" fiction section.

Part of me thought it was wrong for him to want out of genre labeling--because what's wrong with being us?--but then I thought of the practicalities. He'd make lots more money with a successful book in the literature/fiction section than he would in the genre section. So it's complicated. Is some of it self-loathing about being associated with genre? Maybe. Is some of it financially driven? Probably. Is it true that Margaret Atwood writes science fiction? Almost certainly.

So what is the difference? Is it in the craftsmanship of the prose? Publishers such as ChiZine Publications (where I used to work) choose books with amazing prose and craft, but they would still be considered "genre" by most. Is it in what publishers find most marketable? I'd love to know what you think, because the truth is that I am not sure. I do know that I also would like to see more fluidity and more respect. Is that coming now that publishing is more egalitarian than it used to be? Time will tell.

If you read the blog posts I mentioned at the beginning, you'll notice that DeNardo poses a challenge at the end of the post. Find a genre book that a non-genre reader will be like, recommend it. Or, if you are not a genre reader, why? Anyway, there is a little more than that to it, so take a look, and I hope that people representing both sides take him up on it. Tell me what you think.


  1. Hi Beverly.

    I think this goes all the way back to the Joycean Split and what Literature is and isn't supposed to be. Literature is for serious subjects. Genre is for everything else. Anything pre-Joyce gets a grandfather clause.

    So, Frankenstein is Literature (although genre claims it too). Harry Potter is genre.

    Look at the career of Iain Banks--who gets much more respect as a mainstream than a genre novelist among the mainstream anyway.

  2. A non-fiction genre writer (dog and cat behavior and wellness books) friend of mine does a lot of author signings, and is friends with Barbara Delinsky. Barbera Delinsky was talking about being a "generic" Fiction writer, and decried the fact that her books were often found in the Romance section. She Did Not consider herself to be a romance author. But I mean, what's wrong with Romance? Are people buying your books? Are your books *really* as accessible to all readers as you seem to imply? I feel like, unless you can claim that there's something special about your clearly-a-romance novel, that you belong in Romance. But then again, as a librarian, I take MUCH issue with the manner in which books are catalogued in bookstores.

    Also, I am a genre reader. I usually skip the Fiction section entirely. My stuff belongs to a genre and generalized "Fiction" does nothing for me.