It’s time for another Monday’s Musings post, this week the topic is genre fiction vs. literary fiction.
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There is a lot of discussion (and disagreement) about the definitions of genre and literary fiction, let alone which is “better.” So, I guess the first place to start in a discussion of the two is to try to define them.
Genre – Tends to be thought of as “escapist” fiction, with a lesser quality of writing compared to the literary category
Literary – Considered “higher level” and thought to examine human nature, higher quality of writing
Notice the quotes used in my definitions, they probably give away my thoughts on the subject so I guess they aren’t totally unbiased definitions.
In this day and age, I think the line between genre and literary fiction is blurring, if not disappearing completely. When I think of the two categories, I tend to think of books that have been around for a while. Say, the difference between To Kill a Mockingbird (literary) and The Deep Blue Good-by (genre), which is the first Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald.
To Kill a Mockingbird is considered one of the great pieces of American Literature, a story that has touched millions across generations and still speaks to people today. Whereas the Travis McGee novels are mysteries focused on a sort of bum who helps people recover things. Not what a lot of people would consider great literature. But, if you give them a chance (and I recommend you do), you realize there is more. They are about a guy who seems to be totally self-serving and only helps people when he needs the money, but there’s more to Travis than meets the eye. He has a sense of honor and helps those who need it. What more can you want from a hero? How is that not examining human nature?
I think the classifications of these two books are outdated. Today, I think “literary” is a genre of fiction, just like mystery, science fiction and fantasy.
What does the literary genre of today look like? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, in my opinion. I tend to think of it as the category that things fall into if they don’t fall into any other category. Is that a popular opinion? Probably not. People seem to get very bent out of shape when you tell them “literary” isn’t the end all, be all. Or that books in other genres are just as good as “literary” titles. I keep putting that in quotes, I can’t help it. I tend to think it sounds kind of pretentious.
When I think of literature, I think older. I think of what I read in my AP English class in high school; Pride and Prejudice, The Sound and The Fury and Crime and Punishment. It’s not that I don’t think people write books that are important anymore, it’s just that what’s written today hasn’t had time to become classic yet. Maybe someday a book that came out last week will be considered a classic, literary novel. The great American novel of the 21st century that will be studied in English classes a hundred years from now. But, I still think it will be considered part of the “literary” genre of fiction. Not a group of fiction above all others.
This just my opinion obviously. But, what do you think?