Last night, while clicking through Facebook posts, I stumbled across a post that weighed in on the (non?) issue of literary versus genre fiction. I’ll summarize in case you missed updates from the battlefield. Teams have formed around both styles of writing. Each claims ardent devotees who scorn the other side with the sort of rabid disdain usually associated with British soccer hooligans. “Literary fiction” is dismissed by genre fans as snobbish tomes with herculean word counts, as devoid of plot as filled with florid description, favored with numerous obscure literary awards but absent actual readers. “Genre fiction” is written off, in turn, as fluff scribbled by MFA-less hacks, inexplicably popular with the masses and unfairly awarded with higher sales than its worthier cousin. A skirmish in the larger battle over which is the “best” fiction involves the foray of “literary” authors into “genre” fiction and what to make of (and where to shelve) the Frankenstein’s monster-ish cross-genre works such efforts produce.
The article I read focused on the invasion of science fiction by authors better known for literary works. I’m not sure which side of the literary-genre fence the article’s writer came down on or whether she loved or hated the cross pollination. The article vacillated between extolling the virtues of literary authors bringing the perceived superiority of their MFA-sanctioned writing to the pop fiction table and blasting the same authors for obliviousness to the nuances of the sci-fi genre and for being too stuck up to admit they were writing a genre work. I do, however, know where I stand. I have both feet planted in the camp of “who cares what you call it as long as you get something out of reading it?”. The literary and genre fiction labels are artificial constructs invented by people trying to figure out where to display books in stores. The only thing that really matters about books, the only thing that should matter, anyway, is whether the book offers you something that makes it worth the time and effort you invest in reading it. You, the reader, decide what “something” is. Escape, edification, confirmation, inspiration, whatever. You’re the only one who can decide if a book is “good” or worthy or worth it to you because you’re the one reading it. You’re the one investing your precious time and brain cells engaging with the words on the page or on the screen or in the audio file. Not your mother, not your neighbor, not your spouse or child, not your best friend, nor the people around the water cooler, nor some critic opining in a publication you never heard of. Your time, your mental and emotional energy, your decision. Call it literary, call it genre, call it Bob. As long as it tells a good story—again, “good” is your call. Plot, character, language, an abundance of ninja salamanders, whatever you want—and doesn’t leave you regretting hours of your life you’ll never get back, it’s legit.
What’s your opinion about the literary vs genre debate? Favor one over the other? Love both? Think “literary” and “genre” authors should each stay in their lane? Think labels are meaningless?