Genre Fiction – Literary’s grotesque cousin?

In 2016, I attended WorldCon, which is a convention put on by the World Science Fiction Society.  At the convention, they talked a lot about genre fiction and the future of sci-fi and fantasy particularly. That has me thinking recently.

Some of the speakers talked as if genre fiction is looked down upon. When I goggled genre fiction, I came across this article at the Huffington Post. The author agrees, saying “There are certainly high brow literary readers who believe that genre fiction does not deserve any merit. Then there are the types who exclusively read one or two subtypes of genre fiction and automatically classify any “serious” works of literature as pretentious or boring.” Sadly, I think I lean toward the genre fiction over literary, but I didn’t even realize there was this animosity out there.

The Huffington Post article argues that one factor separating genre fiction from literary is the memorability of the story. It says, “But do they [genre fiction] provide a means to stay inside reality, through the trials and tribulations of every day life, and deliver a memorable experience that will stick with you emotionally for the rest of your life? In my opinion, no. The works that are well written by genre writers are the ones that provide the best form of entertainment and escapism that fiction has to offer.” The article mentions a bunch of genre and literary writers.  When I read the lists of names, I could only remember the stories from the genre writers even though I have read many of the names on the literary list. That suggests to me that the memorability of a story has less to do with a “literary” designation and more with a person’s interest in reading.

The article also argues that “The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses.” Again, I disagree in part. There is a significant portion of genre literature that is escapism, but there is also a part that comments on society, human nature, and our perceptions. Part of the underlying current at WorldCon revolved around the prevailing view published by the scifi/fantasy industry and opening the genre readership to novels that had expanded world views. This New Yorker article argues that some of the genre literature is not actually genre literature. It specifically says, ““All the Pretty Horses” is no more a western than “1984” is science fiction.” This strikes me as odd. Finding that a novel is not genre because the novel, which would fall under genre in general, has a story line is acceptable in “literary” circles, that lacks logic. It suggests literary and genre fiction are two total separate areas whereas I believe they are more of a venn diagram with overlapping areas.

A while back I discovered this Venn diagram by Annie Neugebauer which I thought was brilliant.

A great article on this diagram at SPi-Global

Anyway, I think one more overlapping circle could be literary. There is no reason to pull a genre novel from the genre when it could just as easily be both genre and literary both.

All this comes down to:

As an average reader, I never cared or distinguished genre from literary.

As a new writer, all the attempts to classify and shove books in specific categories is annoying.

As an amateur market watcher, I understand why the book selling industry categorize novels into a specific pigeon hole particularly when bookstore shelf space prevented placing a book in two sections, but with the growing electronic book sales, there is no reason books have to shoved into a single category, especially when my understanding of fiction is much more overlapping and mingled than what the old classifications allow.


5 thoughts on “Genre Fiction – Literary’s grotesque cousin?”

  1. Unfortunately, I’ve run into people with the opinion that genre fiction is lowbrow. Even had a professor in college who hated science fiction and fantasy.

    Thankfully, the number of people I’ve met who accept all forms of stories, regardless of their personal preference, is much higher.

    I personally prefer the escape genre fiction offers, but I’ve also learned more from reading in general (genre fiction, realistic fiction, nonfiction) than from schoolbooks.

    I love the idea of having mixed categories for books in the future, and I think we’re already on the way there.

    1. I agree. I learn a lot from reading anything that catches my attention. Unfortunately, I recognize the need for categories to assist in marketing, but I think those categories have been scrambled to much by self-pub, small press, and even big brands trying to take advantage out what’s popular. Because categories are useful, it drives me nuts when people attempt to elevate one type above the others.

  2. Unfortunately the publishing world – the big five – perpetuate this perception by breaking off their sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and so on into an imprint. They won’t consider an author worthy of publishing if they don’t fit nicely into a niche. There’s also a deep distrust of people who read fantasy and sci-fi. They are people who still live in their parents’ basement and attend ComicCon dressed up like Klingons. They aren’t ‘serious’ people. Witness when the cover for Harry Potter was changed to the locket for adult readers. They were afraid no serious adult wanted to be seen with a cartoon with a wand on the cover.

  3. My creative writing professors in college looked down on genre fiction. We weren’t allowed to write any stories resembling fantasy, mysteries, action, sci-fi, etc. That was all I wanted to write, though. That’s all I still write.
    I do see categories branching off further, and readers are learning the specifics of their tastes. Do you prefer dystopic science-fiction romance or historical sword and sorcery retellings or paranormal urban fantasy detective stories? There are books in those categories.

    1. I am not afraid to admit that my introduction to fantasy (after grade school books) was romance. I enjoy Dresden Files, Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, Iron Druid, and lots of others.
      What do you read/write?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s