Friday, July 17, 2009

Literary Vs. Genre

I have been thinking of this topic quite a bit this week. After all we are all genre writers here. Aren't we. So what does that mean for the literary works we might squeeze out from time to time. I have done it, had them published even. I know several of you have done the same thing. So what does it mean? Anything?

I don't think so. Genre is usually bound by the rules set by the reader. If the reader thinks it is horror, science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, thriller. . .it is. No questions asked. If it can't be classified as any of these, or is focused more on the character than the plot (sorry literary writers out there, I had a professor use those exact words about literary works) then you have a literary work. Character makes great literature and plot is born from conflict. I could probably whittle down most literary works into a genre if you really wanted me to but the snooty professors and academia will throw me into a kettle of boiling oil for tarnishing their beloved works. Let me show you what I mean.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens- Ghost story. Ghosts are the stuff of horror but still considered a literary work worthy of serious discussion.

Beloved by Toni Morrison- Ghost story. Still didn't stop Oprah from using it in her book club and making a really bad movie about it.

Moby Dick- Herman Mellville. Adventure/thriller. One of the most boring books I have ever made it through.

The Immoralist- Andre Gide. Erotica. Disguised as a serious literary discussion this is really no better than many penthouse forums in its subject matter.

As I lay Dying- William Faulkner. Horror. There is more discussion of death and the rotting of body parts here than almost any story I have read by King.

The awakening- Kate Chopin. Romance. It is a sexual awakening people. The author wasn't even trying to cover that up very well.

I could go on but you get the idea. All of the genre's are really just literary themes that have been indulged upon. This is another reason I don't take 'literary' fiction that seriously. Even Shakespeare had fun with bones, witches, ghosts, fairies, death, and suicide.

In an aside, and to show you that 'genre' fiction is worthy of discussion in academia I took classes in Science Fiction Literature (English 240) Iowa State University (ISU), Gothic Literature (English 3470) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), Native American Literature (don't recall the number) UNO, Woman's literature (again, I don't recall the number) UNO, Children's Literature (English 296) ISU. I could go on, but it has been 15 years for many of these classes and I took more literature classes than most of the English majors so I have just plain forgotten some of them.

Isn't it nice to know that we are all just literary writers, just more indulgent than most.

Have a great Friday and a glorious weekend.


Aaron Polson said...

True that. When King won the National Book Award (and boy did that piss off some literary types), he made some good points. Look for the speech if you can find it.

Personally, I don't know why the literary folk let the feathers get so ruffled. The guy who buys a horror book isn't going to read Silas Marner, anyway.

Unknown said...

ahh lists. literature, genres, really it's all the same in my opinion.

but i like this list game. my bookshelf will help me add some.

Jane Eyre - there is a woman. locked in the attic. and she has been there FOR YEARS.

Lolita - a creepy man abducts and rapes a young girl. repeatedly.

Pride and Prejudice - women aren't allowed to work or own property, and unless they find husbands before they reach a certain age, they will die poor and alone.

eh i might need to stop now. my soapbox is showing :^)

Unknown said...

oh, and in my three examples - i was showing how the works of lit could all be classified as wonderous HORROR.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Aaron- Good writing is good writing. I didn't think that the story that won King the O'Henry was that good myself. He has much better short stories out there.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Samantha- My list could have gone on for quite a while but I had to stop myself.

brady said...

I wish there was a better word for non-genre fiction than literary, because that has a "quality" connotation. I mean, what does literary mean, anyway? Precision of language, emotional resonance, moral importance...basically, art. And I don't think even the snootiest of snooties would deny that there's genre fiction that qualifies as art. I've heard people try to call in "mainstream fiction," but that's obvious nonsense, because there's nothing more mainstream than, say, Danielle Steel or Dan Brown.

Ultimately, I think genre labels are useful for marketting departments and readers who are afraid to venture out of their comfort zone, either out of vanity or because they really only want to repeat the experience of reading the same book over and over again.

I think we should get to claim Cormac McCarthy. Any way you slice it, if it's got cannibalism, it's ours.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Brady- I couldn't agree more. Dibs on McCarthy for the horror genre!

Fox Lee said...

So basically literary authors can eat a few chips at leave it at that, but we take down the whole bag? ; )

K.C. Shaw said...

I took a lit class about dragons. It was awesome. We read everything from Beowulf to Tolkien, and no one in the class felt the need to say, "Wait, this one's literature, but this is just fantasy." We were all just enjoying some awesome stories. It's too bad so many people feel the need to compartmentalize what they read and never step out of that compartment.

Jamie Eyberg said...

K.C.- Dragons would be awesome! I studied Beowolf with Chaucer and the morality plays of early England. Something about ripping off your enemies arms and beating him to death with them is awesome!

Jamie Eyberg said...

Nat- We're the chex party mix.

Katey said...

I think about this a lot, and the older I get the more I think the need to tag things is just for marketing ease, and people who buy into it are being sheepy. Which is fine, so long as you can admit to it-- hell, I'm sheepy about loads of stuff!

But if it's not because you're being a capitalist, if you need false categories to make you feel superior, as if you write something better just because it's called "literary", you're probably a pathetic douchebag.

But those are the only two reasons I can think of for it to even be an issue. Both = fallacy.

And that's a long way of saying man, I so agree with everything you just said.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Katey- As soon as I get the rights back on one experimental literary piece I wrote I am going to post it here. I need to look up that contract.

Katey said...

Ooh yeah, I'd love to see what brought this on!

Carrie Harris said...

One of the best lit classes I took in college was in detective lit. And I took it as an honors class.

I don't know why, but that seems funny to me.