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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Literary or genre?

It’s a fact of life that highbrow literary circles look down on genre fiction. Literary novels are the official badge of creative writing in the UK and elsewhere; they’re studied at universities, championed in the media, make the book award lists and more.

Yet what about genre fiction? It easily outsells literary fiction in bookshops and online, and it produces millions upon millions of sales, worldwide, each and every year. From the humble detective novel to the sassy chick lit book, genre fiction is where it’s at in terms of the money. You’ll never get rich writing literature, unless you’re one of the elite few. Whereas the money’s spread far wider in genre writing, allowing hundreds of novelists to make a living from it.

In the end, it all depends on point of view. And my point of view is that literature IS a genre of fiction, just the same as horror, romance or fantasy. Why shouldn’t they all be categorised? I’d wager that the number of books sold in the crime genre equal sales of all those literary books that come out.

In any case, categorising fiction has its own pitfalls. Cross-genre novels are becoming increasingly popular, whether they are romantic-fantasy tomes or comic westerns. Where will it all end? Do these joint ventures become genres in themselves, or must they remain unclassified?

I just wish that more respect would be given to the humble genre book. There seems to me little point in academic institutions teaching a new generation of writers to create a type of literary output that is essentially niche in nature. Why not start putting genre books – thriller, romance – on the syllabus? At least there’s more opportunity to get published with genre fiction, by the simple fact that there are more publishers. People know what they like and read what they like.

Let’s end this unwanted snobbery of the humble genre novel.



Melissa Marsh said...

Bravo! I completely agree. There is a definite snobbery against genre novels. But strangely enough, our "literary classics" like Dickens and Austen were considered "genre" and not high-brow at all in their day.