Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Literary vs. Genre Fiction: Are We Still Arguing About This?
As a speculative fiction writer, I run into the literary vs. genre fiction divide often.

Literary sorts can be dismissive of spec fic, suggesting that it's "just entertainment" and doesn't "enrich the mind."

Genre fiction sorts can be dismissive of literary fiction, suggesting that it's "navel-gazing" or "boring" or "self-indulgent."

They're both right and they're both wrong.

The worst of genre fiction can lack depth (though sometimes, a lack of depth is just what I need: I'm all for a good escapist read from time to time) and the worst of literary fiction can be eye-rollingly self-important.

Luckily, I try to read the best of both instead.

When I introduce myself as a speculative fiction author, people are often surprised how "well read" I am. That's another term that gets on my nerves, as it places a judgment on the value of what people read, suggesting that some books make you "well read" and others--well, I guess the opposite would be "poorly read"?

I help run the First Monday Classic Book Club at my library with another speculative fiction writer, , and more than one attendee has been surprised to discover kinds of things we write.  James and I can talk with you about Les Miserables or Wolverine, whichever you'd prefer, or about how Jean Valjean and Logan share loner/hidden hero characteristics, as well as harboring secret physical gifts.
James Maxey

I was an English major, and my Master's degree is also in English. But, even before I started climbing that ivory tower, I was already a voracious reader.

I like to think of myself as omnivorous when it comes to books. I'll try reading anything. I wish more people would be a little more open to considering the value of other kinds of art.

I love comic books AND classic literature and this doesn't feel like a dichotomy to me.

Good story is good story. Compelling writing is compelling writing. A story about non-realistic things is just as likely to make me ponder deeply as one about realistic things. Maybe even more likely because it won't feel pedantic and un-artistically direct.

And *so much* classic and literary fiction plays with speculative elements. Isn't "magical realism" just literary speak for "speculative fiction"? Isn't Margaret Atwood, Guggenheim Fellowship and Booker Award winner, also a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the author of one of the best dystopian works ever written? (Handmaid's Tale). Didn't Jane Eyre have a gothic moment when she heard her love cry to her across the distance? Isn't Mary Shelley's Frankenstein read by genre and literary fiction fans?

Isn't it time we set this one aside folks? Different strokes for different folks and my preferred reads aren't better than yours. There's no objective scale for measuring these things, and if we're going by the test of time and seeing what endures? There's a lot of both kinds of literature still kicking after all these years.

Do you find you have biases against certain kinds of books? Or regard them as lower quality because of genre alone? Do you run into those attitudes in your reading circles? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I've seen biases against certain kinds of books and never got it. Why can't we all just enjoy reading?

    1. Some people just have to be contentious, I guess. I say, different strokes for different folks. Just because I don't like something doesn't mean it is meritless and that no one should like it.