I consider myself to be quite an eclectic reader when it comes to book genres. What I look for in a book is competent writing, engaging prose, remarkable characters, and an interesting plot. These elements can be found in a variety of genres. However, some authors and readers seem to put literary fiction on a pedestal and disregard genre fiction. That for me reveals a high level of snobbery. I’m not trying to say that readers should like every single book genre there is, that is virtually impossible. But there is a huge difference between not enjoy reading a specific genre and considering that all books from that genre are worthless.
When I say that I don’t like a certain genre, it is a matter of personal taste and not of quality. For example, nowadays, I almost never read Young Adult novels, because I tend not to enjoy reading books whose main characters are teenagers, particularly when they are younger than 17 years old (Harry Potter being one of the few exceptions). Nevertheless, I recognise that they can be extremely enjoyable for a lot of people and that they can even convey critical messages.
Personally, I appreciate both literary fiction and a variety of genre fiction (fantasy, dystopian, mystery…), because, as Jessie Burton put in on Twitter, “my favourite genre is a Book with Incredible Prose That Stops You with Astonishment, Characters You Think Might Walk Through The Door and Story that Makes You Miss Your Train”. Such books can be branded as both literary fiction and genre fiction.
I may be overthinking, but even the term literary fiction reveals a certain level of pretentiousness and disdain towards other genres. The adjective ‘literary’ is obviously related to literature, and this is how Cambridge Dictionary defines it: “written artistic works, especially those with a high and lasting artistic value”. Although I use it myself, the expression ‘literary fiction’ seems to imply that genre fiction can never have the same degree of literary merit, and that is something I don’t agree with.
Furthermore, the characteristics often attributed to literary fiction and genre fiction aren’t mutually exclusive. Genre fiction is usually regarded as a form of entertainment, while literary fiction’s aim is considered to be getting emotional responses. Nonetheless, from my point of view, not only literary fiction can be entertaining, but genre fiction can also emotionally touch readers. Similarly, whereas literary fiction tends to be more experimental in terms of writing style, genre fiction often tests new approaches in terms of plot.
I decided to address this issue on a post after stumbling upon a tweet by Elena from Bodies in the Library and watching a video on Simon’s YouTube channel, SavidgeReads. Elena clearly highlighted that genre fiction can be as good as literary fiction, and the number of readers it has serves as a testament to that.
Simon’s video focuses on the snobbery and elitism with which commercial fiction is looked at, how some literary fiction is too clever and alienating, and the dichotomy between worth and enjoyment. He believes that a novel doesn’t need to have a special worth, we can just enjoy it and use it to escape. I’ll only add that just by bringing some enjoyment to readers, a book already has merit and value.
I don’t mean to say that it’s not alright to only enjoy literary fiction. It is! What I don’t think it is fair is to brand genre fiction as worthless, just because it is popular and seems to be profitable.