Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Well, this is insulting:

Check out this post about “Seven literary SF/F novels you must read.” Damien G Walter posted this one and frankly turned me right off.

That kind of list is always kind of laugh-worthy because, hello, tastes are kind of not identical across the whole readership? I’ve never seen a list I even halfway agreed with and surely nobody else has, either.

But here’s the bit that made me choke:

What makes these novels distinctly ‘literary’ as opposed to the genre novels they resemble? Put simply, they are better. More ambitious, deeper in meaning, both intellectual and poetic. They might be harder work for readers trained to the easily digested conventions of commercial fiction.

Gosh, thanks for dissing all that commercial fiction, buddy. God forbid we should sully ourselves reading that shallow lowbrow barely-literate trash.

I actually liked THE ROAD, all right? (That’s the only one on the list I’ve read.) But don’t go telling me it’s so much better and deeper and more ambitious and poetic than crass commercial genre stories — or that quality defines literary. The only people who think it does are the ones who read widely in so-called literary fiction and almost not at all in genre fiction.

Anybody disagree?

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5 Comments Well, this is insulting:

  1. Elaine T

    Nope.

    I’ve read more than one on that list and …. let’s just say I didn’t find them ambitious or poetic or deeper. Skimmed a few more, but didn’t read after deciding they weren’t interesting. (It is liberating to realize you don’t HAVE to finish a book you started, if it isn’t interesting.) i may try the Marquez again someday, if I find a different translation – I often feel a barrier between me and translated works and that was definitely contributing to my dislike of Marquez.

    The original post puts me in mind of someone’s famous remark – I think JRRT’s – to the effect that Literary people didn’t like his works, and he didn’t like theirs. Judging by publication history he gets the last laugh.

    i think an awful lot of people who like the genre known as ‘literature’ (and I do think it is a genre as much as sf or romance is) find deepness in language and certain types of detail and a generally bleak view of things. The quality of being boring isn’t required but comes along with a lot of them, like chocolate chips in cookies. Whereas a really good writer as defined by me is one who can be entertaining as well as illuminating of the human condition. Being entertaining is hard work. (Entertaining not necessarily meaning humorous, but rather engaging the attention and emotion of the reader.)

    ‘Quality’ defining ‘literary’ requires one to define quality. And those discussions turn, in the end, on taste, once they get past essentials such as grammar.

    I wonder how many of those he suggested will be read one hundred years after first publication? Especially for fun and not assigned in school?

  2. Christine Strider

    On these subjects and titles, “I know NOTHING!!” (Sgt. Schultz)….so….I feel it tis better to keep silent and be THOUGHT a fool, than to speak… and totally remove ALL doubt.

  3. Rachel

    “Especially for fun and not assigned in school” — exactly!

    I think too many “literary” authors, and readers, mistake a feeling of hopeless despair for philosophical depth. And then declare that without philosophical depth, a book is nothing.

  4. Janet

    Ah, “literary.” It’s such a slippery slope between peerless and portentous and pretentious ….
    When someone who makes such strong claims about reading challenging literary works uses “it’s” improperly for “its”, and feels the need to use “whilst”, I mentally slide the ticker over toward pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouraging fantasy readers to try to read renowned literary works, and suggesting that they try ones with elements that they enjoy, such as a post-apocalyptic setting or magical realism. But there’s no reason to be insulting at the same time, and implying that using tired tropes & conventions is the only way to be readable and popular is preposterous. I tend to feel the same way about literary reading purists as I do about people who eat grape-nuts for breakfast every morning. Props to you for routinely eating a meal that is so low-sugar, high-fiber, subtly flavored, nutritious, hard and slow to eat. But to the rest of us – (enjoying our Cheerios and donuts and scones and such) -that’s a bit odd, you’re missing out, and chewing that slowly all the time makes you look like a cow.

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