It seems perhaps in poor taste to post today with all of Sandy’s madness, but the way people talk about genre fiction and literary fiction has long been a sore subject for me. In graduate school (though not in my undergraduate program, where the faculty were both more open-minded and more emotionally mature), I struggled with instructors and students for reasons relating to this limp distinction. As a writer trying to make a career for himself, I struggled for a long time to find venues that would not reject my blended approach out of hand, and sometimes I still do.
Don’t cry for me, Argentina: I’m doing just fine, and in the long term I expect to do better. But it never feels good to see the things you love to make, and the things you often love to read, dismissed out of hand. Arthur Krystal thinks he’s being a brave truth-teller when he takes to The New Yorker to restate his opposition to including genre fiction in the category of literature, but he’s not being brave. Instead, he comes off as weirdly incapable of reflection. There have been a thousand articles like Krystal’s, and they always make the same very basic mistake: their conclusion (genre fiction’s inferiority to literary fiction) is also their premise. That is to say, they are begging the question. Click below the fold to see what I mean! READ MORE >
Reviewing the Amazon Reviewers: I know this book has the word “Apocalypse” in the title, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be shitty sci-fi (even the sci-fi in it is really good) so if all you want in life is shitty sci-fi, do us both a favor and buy a different book.
The Apocalypse Reader just got its 8th review on Amazon the other day. One Michael J. Mason of Orlando, Florida, wrote a review entitled “The only book I have ever disliked so much that I destroyed it!” Wow. Okay, well, I can take my lumps. Democracy is great, blah blah. In fact to be totally honest, there was something about the sheer vehemence of this headline that got me really, really excited. As Jesus puts it in the Good King James: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16.) This guy seemed like he was fixing to boil. Oh boy!
But as I read MJM’s complaint, my heart sank. Turns out he was just another lukewarm asshole, who talked big in his headline but couldn’t sustain his concentration long enough–over the course of his one-paragraph review–to (A) actually describe for us the manner in which he destroyed the book, which would have been interesting, or (B) realize that that sound of one hand clapping was actually me hitting myself in the fucking head, because despite all his bluster and bullshit, he actually liked some estimable (albeit unspecified) percentage of what he read. I’m the last person to bristle at negative reviews, but it drives me insane when people take to a public forum and attack something they didn’t like, not because there was anything wrong with the thing itself, but because the thing itself wasn’t what they wanted. Imagine giving a 1-star review to a portable hard drive because it’s not a dishwasher. Now one of the things I’m proudest of about The Apocalypse Reader is that it happily blurs/ignores/defies the boundaries between genre-lit and mainstream-lit, in the name of Good Lit, period. But the price the book has paid is that it has been consistently plagued by incensed genre-monkeys, for whom I don’t doubt experimental literature (or literature, period) begins (and ends) with Terry Pratchett. (And at the risk of re-starting the Genre Wars that raged recently on this site, I’d like to point out the total number of “literary elitists” who have written in complaining about the book’s genre quotient is ZERO.)
September 4th, 2009 / 10:51 am
The Guardian says that Scottish literature has been split in two by comments made by James Kelman, who over the weekend attacked “writers of detective fiction or books about some upper middle-class young magician or some crap.” My first reaction to this was “Man, it is apparently super fucking easy to split Scottish literature in two,” but upon further reflection that seems petty. American literature gets split in two pretty much every other week, and usually Oprah Winfrey has something to do with it.
I should refrain from discussing what this whole contretemps might do to Scotland’s collective national psyche, at least until I can fake a better Scottish accent. But it got me thinking about the old “literary fiction” versus “genre fiction” debate, which leads me to this question: Does this debate make you want to (a) shoot yourself in the head, or (b) stab yourself in the face? If someone brings this topic up, do you usually (a) cry, or (b) vomit blood? Either way, it sounds like Scotland is kind of fucked, which is a shame, because I like that “Belle and Sebastian” band. (By the way: Hi! My name is Michael.)