Thursday, October 8, 2009

Genre vs. Literature

It seems another round in the genre vs. literature debate has erupted. A couple of weeks ago Kim Stanley Robinson (one of my favourite authors) took a swing at the Booker prize judges for their ignorance of the excellent works or (literary?) science fiction currently being published in the UK. Today I came across this article on several blogs and message boards I frequent.

I have never really gotten involved in the debate before. Both parties seem to be firmly entrenched, there really doesn't seem to be a point to debating the of something so ill defined as a genre and what it's (equally impossible to pin down) literary merit may be. It may be hard to pin down genres but the divide between genre fiction and literature is quite obviously real.The question that does occur to me is "Do we really mind?"

As a child I read a lot. An awful lot even. This interest in reading came to an abrupt halt when my classes in Dutch and English literature started. Debating the significance of the dice in Mulisch' The Assault, disecting a poem by Willem Kloos, or figuring out what some particularly obscure phrase by Chaucer would mean in modern English were something of a traumatic experience to me (and I might add, most of my fellow students). And don't blame that on the teachers. They tried. It is not even that I don't appreciate skill and talent of some of the authors discussed. Their selection just didn't interest me at all. My appetite for reading didn't return until I was well into my college years. Since then I have read mostly, but not exclusively, books that Booker prize judges would not want to be caught with.

Laying siege on this ivory tower of literature, trying to gain some foothold in this "respectable" part of writing, is not something I quite understand. In my experience literature can be very enjoyable but it also possess a talent for finishing off any desire to read at all in it's unsuspecting victims. As long as it stays out of the clutches of the literary establishment I don't think genre fiction is at risk of ending up that way.

So tell me, do you think the divide between genre and literature is a bad thing?


  1. It is a bad thing for those who miss some very good titles only because they are genre.
    I personally don't mind. I like the fantasy genre the most, but I like reading from other genres as well. I don't mind reading literature either, but from my experience I didn't enjoy more novels from here than from other genres. It is a shame that the genre goes underappreciated, but after all it is not its lost.

  2. I'm not sure if it is a matter of missing out. If you are not open to accepting certain impossibilities or projections of what the future might look like I think reading genre fiction will only reinforce the preconceptions of the reader no matter how well written a book is.