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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Genre War

I really thought I wasn't going to write this post. At least not this week. I was hoping people had matured past this point. Apparently I was wrong. Shame on me for having faith in humanity.

Let's stroll, shall we, through the wonderland of idiocy:

Surely we demand of “adult” writers (or perhaps what I really mean is “great” writers) higher moral and philosophical stakes?

Interesting point, but what morals? Whose morals? What guideline are we using here? Roman morals? Greek? Pygmy tribes from the heart of the jungle? Modern American? Not offensive... until you read the next person's response.

Well, of course we do demand of “great” writers—literary-fiction writers—higher moral and philosophical stakes.

Excuse me? I do so hope no one let this idiot vote. To be a great writer you have to write literary fiction. Well! Stone a crow! Some get Mr. Pratchett on the phone double time, he'll laugh his head off when he finds out he writes literary fiction!

And then we have this gem. A description of YA fiction:

I tend to think of young-adult fiction as sort of facile—a straightforward style, uncomplicated themes and morals—

No, I don't write YA usually. I didn't enjoy my teenage years and I don't want to go back there and relive high school. Actually I do, in my nightmares I run around my old high school waving my college diploma and begging for them to release me - only to be told that I have to finish an obscure class to graduate and thus re-earn my college degree. I wake up in cold shivers, screaming, every time. That doesn't mean you can insult an entire genre. Any genre. There are even literary works that have merit.

All of the above quotes are taken from the Book Bench Reads review of Headlong. And I was tipped off by Nathan's guest blogger Adrienne Kress, who aptly explains why she writes middle-grade fiction. As she so aptly writes:

It is a question that supposes that in an ideal world, an author’s first choice would obviously be to write for adults, because those are the “real” books. I mean, let’s face it, there is a stigma attached with writing books that aren’t for adults. There is also a stigma attached to writing genre fiction (SF/Fantasy) or romance books. In general, it is widely known that there are certain genres out there that don’t, for whatever reason, earn the same respect as commercial or literary fiction.

Yeah, I've noticed that too. I think all authors have. If you want awards you have to belong to the good ol' boy school and write... uh... I really can't think of a polite term so let's settle for Literary Fiction and pretend I don't use that like a curse word. 'k?

I'm not sure I can even get into the mindset of someone who appreciates only one genre. And only lit-fic at that. I remember lit-fic, usually in the same nightmares where I'm wandering my hgih school hallways, the books weren't very exciting. Half the time I wanted to reach for brain-bleach by chapter three. And, at the end of the day, the classic books didn't influence me as much as other, less regarded, works.

If classic books could influence everyone WE WOULDN'T HAVE GENRES. The reason genre fiction exists is the same reason a good teacher knows what a learning style is: not everyone thinks or learns in the same way. This is why art and reading are subjective. This is why not everyone likes poetry. This is why there are different kinds of music on the radio. People are individuals, they think, learn, and appreciate things differently.

So we have genres. Because sometimes there are people like me who want to explore the meaning of life in a spaceship rather than through the eyes of a Russian killer.

Lit-fic is not better than YA, or fantasy, or sci-fi, or spec fic, or UF, or any other of the myriad genres available. No one genre is better than the other.

And for a person to say, "I only read this genre," scares me. Terrifies me. Because genres are huge.

When someone tells me, "I don't like sci-fi."

I ask, "What have you read?"

And the blank stare of incomprehension does not impress me. The little victim will squirm. "Read? I don't read sci-fi, I don't like space ships."

"Really? Why not?"

"Well, I like real books. You know, about real people."

Someone go hold Black Jack Geary's hand! He's not a real person? I could cry... Actually, I usually stare at the person and bite my tongue so I won't use any of the 1001-nasty-remarks that come easily to mind.

You haven't read the genre so you don't like it?

Isn't that rather like saying I don't eat food because anchovies smell funny?

One book does not a genre make (with, possibly, the exception of LOTR or I, Robot). Within every genre is a huge variation of voice and style. Some genres, like romance, or only loosely linked together by a common shelf in the store. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is not in the same realm of writing as the Harlequin Book of the Month, but they are both romance. And a person who loves P&P can also love the HBM, or not, and vice versa.

Laurell K. Hamilton's books are shelved in the same section as Discworld and Dark Wing, and I grant you she does write paranormal/ urban fantasy. But reading Guilty Pleasures (which I enjoyed, but I had to drop the series after book 3 because it veered off in directions I didn't feel like following - consider yourself warned) won't give you even a taste of what Dark Wing is like.

In the spirit of tolerance, and hoping that somehow this idea will turn viral and spread, I'll be blunt: Yes, you do like all genres. If you say you don't it only means you have failed to find the book in the genre you like. It's out there, it's waiting, get rid of your small-minded prejudices and read.

And, because I have readers who know I don't love all genres equally this is my list of favorites from every genre:
Paperback- Where's by Cow? by Terry Pratchett

MG- a toss up between Catherine, Called Birdie and Sarah Bishop

YA- the Circle of Magic series or So You want to be a Wizard?

Horror- Tell-tale Heart by Poe

Romance- tough.... Scarlet Pimpernel or Downhome Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair

Urban Fantasy- Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

Fantasy- Farmer Giles of Ham by Tolkein

Comic or satire - the Discworld series by Pratchett and the Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams

Science Fiction - to many to name but let's start with Price of the Stars, the Vorkosigan Saga, and the Lostfleet series

Plays- Of Arms and a Man by George Bernard Shaw

Mystery - Hercule Pirot for classic, the Comedy Tonight series by Cohen for modern cozy

Historical - the Bro. Caudfel series or anything set in Rome with good research

Literary Fiction - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Stoppard

Nonfiction - I love my evolution text book


  1. *snickers and anticipates fireworks*

  2. Well, I guess I should branch out more, but can we judge it by something that is different in every genre? I only like books that have an emphasis on the relationships between people. And even in romance it can be on the back burner.

  3. I can think of a book in every genre where the emphasis is on relationships, Rie. Do you want it between just two people or between whole nations and races?

  4. Amen. Shall do a response post when I return from holidays.

  5. Yes, Inky, do a post!!!

    I like all genres. I didn't realize this until I met you, Lei. I really enjoyed your short story, Seventy, and although there were things I didn't understand in it, it was written well enough to keep my interest and tell a good story.

    I like all genres because in the end, if it tells a story and shares emotion, who cares WHERE it is set, or WHEN?

    And as far as literary fiction goes... well, I do believe the classics are classics because they have mastered language, character, tone, and all the other important aspects of storytelling. This doesn't undermine any other good work out there, though... and sometimes I think the works that end up in the "canon" should be ripped back out of there, and others put in. Who is making these decisions, anyway?

  6. This reminds me... I need to do a post on my father-in-law's article, "What Is Art?" It would be a very good answer to this post...

    *goes to dig up article*

  7. *giggles and holds flaming spoon at the ready*

    Well said!

    Me, I like sci-fi. And fantasy. And YA (and suprrisingly most YA i read is sci-fi or fantasy). I like a bit of mystery and crime sometimes. And humour. So yeah, I like a lot to read...and writing wise I write in varied genres. :) None is better than the other! Idiots who think that.

  8. wow. I understand not wanting to read a genre because it just doesn't appeal to you very much, but saying it's not worthwhile??

    I guess we'll just have to take a page from Mark Twain's book, pick odd names, and write in genres nobody even thinks are worth the time...and prove them wrong!


    I love Mark Twain