Humans have a habit of organizing things into categories. We see this with music, telivision, media, and of course, literature. Now in fiction literature we have two polar playing fields- literary and genre. The common definition of literary is fiction that it is serious and critically acclaimed (Saricks). Genre on the other hand posesses a much less vague definition- this is where most commercial fiction lies in the vast wonderland of horror, mystery, romance, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, and the endless other sub-categories. It has become common place within the writing community that literary is superior to that of genre fiction and that even genre fiction is mediocre at best. NO!
Of course, we know that this bias is ill placed right? Genre fiction possesses some of the most amazing writers of the last century like Tolkien, Lovecraft, King, and Gaiman; writers that have entertained millions and still utilized precise word play and literary composition. Until I attended the 2012 AWP conference in February I had never witnessed as much disdain for my most beloved genres. In my post 10 Things I Learned from AWP, I mentioned that there is a crusade against genre fiction and that what I find it is. Popular disdain for silly fiction or even fantastical universes so intricate entire textbooks could be devoted to their texts like the Lord of the Rings are assumed to be beneath that of literary fiction.
Now of course I know there is a difference between the two, but the way some of these writers look down their nose at certain fiction just due to its genre is foolish. We see this same idiocy in music as well as many people mock genres like hardcore or punk rock without properly listening to the astonishing lyrics or melodies of such music. To be frank its plain old lame and too old school for the new school- feel me? Of course, countless magazines and anthologies call for “literary” fiction, but in that same notion can’t genre fiction be serious and critically acclaimed?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for genre and literary fiction and perhaps one day they will be held under the same judgement.
What do you think of the differences between genre and literary fiction? Is one better than the other?
Saricks, Joyce (2009). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd ed.). ALA Editions. pp. 402.