Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Literature vs. Genre Is a Battle Where Both Sides Lose"

During a discussion of author James Lee Burke over on Twitter this week I made the comment that the man does not get all the credit he deserves simply because of the genre in which he chooses to work. I firmly believe that to be true in Burke's case because he is one of the most gifted writers of his generation regardless of critical perception. If you are unfamiliar with Burke's work, you are really doing yourself a disservice. 

Coincidentally, I just spotted a piece in The Guardian that puts forth the argument that "literature versus genre is a battle where both sides lose." One of the more interesting points in the article is that when a respected literary writer strays into a genre the author still gets more critical respect than the masters of the very genre in question. Writer Damian Walter uses Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in comparison to Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games as an example of the point he is making.
Literary authors are the luxury brands of the writing world, the Mercedes, the Harrods and the Luis Vuitton of high culture. Genre writers are mid-range consumer brands, with an equivalent status to Skoda, Argos and Primark. Stephen King is the Ford Mondeo of letters, the writer dads actually read while pretending they got past chapter three of Infinite Jest in their 20s.
Which is really the heart of the problem. The market for high-end literature isn’t a healthy one. Intellectuals are reliably penniless, and fancy reading habits don’t make you cool any longer. The people who actually buy books, in thumpingly large numbers, are genre readers. And they buy them because they love them. Writing a werewolf novel because you think it will sell, then patronising people who love werewolf novels, isn’t a smart marketing strategy – but it’s amazing how many smart writers are doing just this.
Excuse me for a bit of a digression, but this whole thing reminds me of all those aging pop and rock recording stars who rather condescendingly decide to "go Country" in order to revive or save their sagging careers. That might work for one song or even one album, but fans really aren't that stupid and they will soon sense a lack of sincerity on the part of a singer or a writer - and they will scorn them, as a result.

But back to books...Walter sums up the "literature vs. genre" war this way: "They’re two halves of the same craft, and if the art of fiction is to remain healthy, we should stop narrowing its range with snobbery."  

Case closed.


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