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« BEA Book Blogger Signing: Where You'll Find Me (on the web) | Main | The Runner Stumbles: How Not to Respond to a Negative Review »

June 21, 2009


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Growing up, my book choices were about economics. I didn't have a lot of money to spend on books. I fell in love with the classics because I could get a big honking book for $3. That's a bargain! At the same time, I read all my mom's Harlequins (also a cheap read). They both had their merits but the classics won out.

Why? The writing was just better. I have no problem with either genre fiction or lit-tra-chore as long as it's well written. At least, with a classic it's been time tested. Now that I think of it "well written" might be a matter of taste. I like long descriptive passages. Someone else would fall asleep reading.

Of course, I already loved reading (I was the kid in class who read ahead of the assigned reading). If a young person only ever reads Dean Koontz from now until the end of time, at least they are reading. The ones who have no favorite book make me sad.


I think there is a place for both. I'm a fan of literary fiction, sure, but it doesn't have to be the highly intellectual, snobby kind. I am more looking for creative inspiration, and these days, you can find that as easily in genre fiction as the "greats".


I, too, am late to the game but I feel it cannot be said enough that the term "genre" doesn't necessarily mean Dan Brown or Danielle Steele or anyone else who's a dreadful writer--or those quickie novels written committee with a name (by Paige Turner) stuck on.

I say this as someone who tried writing romance because my agent suggested it was a good way to write fiction. I had about 10 romance novels pubished under various names(seriously, I don't even remember how many without looking it up) after reading the first, and only, three Harlequins I ever read. Then I realized I wasn't getting any closer to writing quality fiction and went back to non-fiction books and journalism.

Most romance writers aren't writing good fiction, whether they're good writers or not--otherwise, their books would be midlist. Many mystery and science fiction writers are talented writers turning out excellent books (I'm a mystery fan, and I would argue that people like Elmore Leonard, Christopher Brookmyre, Ruth Rendell, et al might transcend genre but genre writers they are when you're looking in a bookstore).

And, as someone once said, any good book is a mystery because it gets you hooked on finding out what happened.

I would worry less about the type of books students choose than the writers they like. To my mind, Dan Brown isn't a writer. He's just a man who puts words together. I remember the heyday of Robert Ludlum, a bad writer buy good yarn-spinner. And, of course, some highbrow authors are unreadable. So I think the real lesson is to beware of labels. And thanks to Permanent Paper for Tweeting the link so I could become a follower!


Why is it snobbery to say literature is better for you? It's like the difference between junk food and nutrition. Reading books like Twilight might satisfy your sweet tooth, but they can't sustain your soul. I guess it depends why you're reading. Do you read to escape, or do you read to understand and accept the human condition? Escape is okay, but isn't understanding better?

CJ West

Bethanne, Fabulous post and thank you for finding your way to genre fiction! As a thriller writer, I've seen my share of lit-snobbery. I love what I do and I am so glad that you made the point that genre fiction can enlighten. I strive to make my work fast-moving and meaningful, but one of the most satisfying aspects of my work is when I receive a note that goes something like this...

"I have been very ill and your work has helped me forget my condition and drift away with your characters for a few days."

If this is the highest level of achievement for my work, I am delighted. It seems that the academic community fails to realize that there are millions of people out there with lives focused on other pursuits.

Just because someone likes a good story doesn't mean they should have to labor over every sentence, just like someone who enjoys going for a walk shouldn't be pushed to train for a marathon.

Joe Wallace

Here's an example I love: In my opinion, Lawrence Block's best Matthew Scudder novels capture essence of New York City at the brink in the late 1970s and early '80s better than all the BONFIRES, BRIGHT LIGHTS, and AM. PSYCHOS put together. A century from now, I believe 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE, A TICKET TO THE BONEYARD, and WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES will still provide a vivid map of that time. (I was there.)

So why aren't they ever discussed when people talk about great NYC novels? Because they're "just" mysteries and thrillers.

David J. Montgomery

People should read whatever they want. I'm just happy if they READ.

David J. Montgomery

p.s. I taught community college for 5.5 years and I don't think most of my students even knew what a book was.

It wasn't that they were dumb -- although some of them certainly were. But a lot of them were from immigrant families, or lower-income families, or families that didn't have books in the house for whatever reason. Even if those factors weren't present, there just wasn't a culture of reading among kids their age.

I'd have been ECSTATIC if one of them said s/he liked to read Dean Koontz. This type of snobbery is just so boring.


I often wonder if people indulge in blanket dismissals of genre literature because they haven't tried it or because they don't possess the imagination necessary to engage with the best of it as readers. The argument that only Blessed Academia or Lit Cabal-approved books can "augment" the human experience is COMPLETE nonsense and totally insupportable. I could go on, but I'll stop.

Thanks for the post and looking forward to pt. 2. I'd somehow completely missed the one at the Millions.

Virginia Guilford

Maybe we should consider that it is not only 'what you read' but also 'what you think' that counts. My academic training was as an anthropologist and the habits of field work and observation of everyday life have stayed with me. Currently, my favorite reading is popular British women's and children's fiction written from the 1920s through the 1950's. Just for fun, I am trying to create a mental picture of life at that time based on the clues provided in contemporary novels. Current favorite authors include Angela Thirkell, Barbara Pym, Enid Blyton, Elinor Brent-Dyer, Patricia Wentworth, Noel Streatfeild, EM Delafield. Most of their novels would be dismissed as mere genre fiction - and I do love the jolly stories. But the social history they reveal is fascinating to me, and every read and reread provides me with more to think about.

Suzanne Arruda

At a faculty author's reception, I once had a faculty member look at my historical mystery, turn up his nose and say "Oh. So you're a market writer" in a voice that suggested that I ate children for snacks. I informed him politely that Shakespeare was a market writer, too. I'm in good company.

Keir Graff

Great post--reminds me of an essay I liked last year, "Leaving Literature Behind," by Bruce Fleming I review both "literary fiction" and crime fiction and can't imagine living without either. (And sometimes I can't even tell the difference between them.)


What is Sonya Chung's claim-to-fame anyway? I bet she is a lot of fun (NOT).

Margie, it IS snobbery when someone like this tootsie suggests that literature is the only way. To me, she throws the word literary around too much, as if it is a crutch she needs to help her. She even has called her own, upcoming novel, "literary fiction".

I can hardly wait to see the reviews.

Right now I am going to her website to read some of her stories.

Terry Weyna

I read everything: literary fiction, science fiction, mysteries, fantasies, horror, slipstream, nonfiction in every subject. If it holds still long enough, I read it. Hell, I've been known to read the backs of cereal boxes if nothing else is to hand.

Without question, what most stretches my head is science fiction, fantasy and horror -- and the slipstreamy stuff that combines all of it and/or crosses over into literary fiction. If you want to really exercise your imagination, read about another world entirely, with alien creatures. That's not sitting back and being entertained; that's using your head. Try reading some serious hard SF, like Robert Forward's Dragon's Egg, and wrap your head around the science that's integral to the plot. Pick up China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and try to picture the various characters and the city he has created, Bas-Lag. This is the work that makes your imagination go Zing! -- not work set in this world, this time, this place.

Two of my most recent reads were P.F. Kluge's Gone Tomorrow, an academic novel (and a really, really wonderful one, at that; finally, an academic novel that isn't a satire, at least not wholly) and Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. Morgan was the tougher read, the one that took more out of me, that required more of my attention. Kluge's was the escape, though it is clearly a more "literary" novel. Morgan's will be hard to review on my blog; the review of Kluge's novel practically wrote itself.

Snobs should do as you did, Bethanne, and read what they're missing. Bet they'd change their minds.

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