17/12/2010

The Good, The Bad and The Genrely

Laura Miller's reply to Edward Docx's now infamous article on the alleged inferiority of genre fiction is well worth-reading. My only quibble (well - the only I'll discuss here) is that Miller, being a "literary" reader like Docx, shares much of his outlook. They both believe that there is something like "good" and "bad" writing and that presence of the former is what separates "literature" from "trash"; where they differ is that Miller thinks it's possible to enjoy both, which is fine and dandy but doesn't go far enough in my view.

I agree with Miller that genre fans tend to over-react to such attacks, but it's due in large part to them still sticking to academic, "literary" standards of "good" and "bad" writing. If you really believe that, say, Ichiguro is the gold standard for writing, then you can't but feel vexed when someone tells you that, no, you're not Ichiguro. This is not to say that genre fiction should not thrive for literature nor that  all conventional standards should be abandoned - but maybe it's time for us to develop our own  and accept that they may be just as valid as those set forth by the Literati. 

(Via)

2 commentaires:

Dorte H a dit…

Thank you for the link.

And like Laura Miller, I enjoyed Stieg Larsson in spite of his style. As part of my teaching career I read and teach Paul Auster, Hemingway and many others with pleasure. But in my spare time I need something different because when I read ´proper literature´ I can´t stop analysing and making up questions. And I enjoy most of the books I read - the fine red wine as well as the more ordinary apple juice.

Patrick a dit…

I love reading. I read "Oliver Twist" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by the fourth grade. I still love Dickens, and I admire the writing of Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Polish author who won the Nobel Prize (whose work, "Quo Vadis", is in my opinion quite possibly the greatest romance novel of all time). I heartily enjoy Shakespeare, even if the comedies aren't very funny (and unbelieveably dirty!).

But what never fails to poison reading (for me) is stuffed-shirt literary criticism. Every book has to be about something deep and meaningful, every sentence must have some sort of alternate meaning, right down to an expertly-placed comma that tell you everything you need to know about human nature.

I always hated reading things in school together, where teachers would constantly bombard you with questions that made little to no sense. What do the ducks in "The Catcher in the Rye" represent? Why is the lighting in "The Glass Menagerie" soft in this particular scene? Why does George Orwell choose to make 2 + 2 equal 5 when it could've just as easily been 6? Why does the author choose to use the word "and" on page 56?

Genre fiction can be good or bad, but the same can be said for literature. I, for one, cannot stand "The Catcher in the Rye". Oh, I'm sure the author has plenty of things to say about life, but I couldn't care less about an annoying brat who whines his way through New York calling everyone he sees a phony, when he himself is the biggest of the lot.

That doesn't mean genre fiction should be considered subliterary, just because it is genre fiction. I'm a devoted mystery fan and refuse to believe that a well-crafted puzzle with good writing is not as literary as anything else. Such a view is naive, narrow-minded and condescending. Perhaps that's why so many people resent it-- articles like that by Docx basically tell people they're idiots for not admiring things that are 'proper'.

I, for one, will not care whether I'm spotted reading John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, or Ellery Queen. I'd far rather read authors I enjoy than sitting through something 'literary' I cannot stand.