Novelist/teacher/reader Sonya Chung is upset about an article in a recent New Yorker about the spectacular popularity of romance writer Nora Roberts, and the article’s implication that the popularity of Roberts’ books somehow makes them (or makes genre fiction in general) interchangeable with well-written literary fiction.
Not so, says Chung:
With its obligatory happy endings, strict conventions, formula elements, and, above all, comforting predictability, genre fiction will always garner a wider audience than literary fiction. Which is another way of saying that more people buy books and spend time with the words in them to evade the (messy, complicated) world as it is than to see it more truly – in all its mystery, pain, complexity, and beauty. Resistance – perhaps opposition is not too strong a word – to genre fiction for a writer and reader of literary fiction is, in my opinion, a literary ecosystem imperative….
…Life is tough, we all seek ways to effectively distract and soothe ourselves. Consume your genre series with gusto and pleasure, like a drippy, juicy bacon burger; kick back and let them carry you away weightlessly, like an after-midnight Wii session. But do not imagine or attempt to argue that they play a vital role in augmenting the human experience.
Chung’s thought-provoking diatribe is worth reading in its entirety – especially for her recommendations for a half-dozen books that Chung feels “bring together the strengths of both the genre and literary forms: suspense, sexual tension, absorbing dialogue, compelling plots, characters you come to love like your favorite pets; and fresh and inventive language, complex characterization, settings you can taste touch and smell, consequential ideas, ambiguity and surprise and mystery.”
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