I’m pretty sure that I’ve talked about this idea before on my blog. And people who read genre fiction a lot have undoubtedly heard from one circle or other that they’re reading “lesser” books, in large part because Fantasy and Science Fiction novels don’t tend to win – or even be nominated for – major book awards such as the Nobel Prize or the Booker Prize*. Going through the list of blogs I follow I came across a post by Larry Correia, a NYT bestselling author of several different books and series, where he is talking about an article within the NYT.
There are a couple of things that he says in his article that I’m going to bring up, but the entire article is entertaining, informative, and well worth reading. The first thing that nobody who supports literary fiction above genre fiction wants to acknowledge is that all of the “classic” novels that are lauded as the high points of literature were the popular fiction of their day. The reason that we still read them today is that they have stood the test of time and have shown that they are still worth reading. It’s easy to look at the fiction of the past and say that it was all being written at a higher level than today, but that’s obviously not true, we’ve just had 50 or 100 or 200 years to wade through all the crap and let the cream rise to the top. It’s the same with genre fiction today. There is a lot of very good genre fiction being written today, but there is also a lot that is popular today that simply won’t stand the test of time. Anyone who has read The Wheel of Time will probably agree with my saying that it will stand the test of time, because it’s an incredibly well written story. I’ve said the same thing about the Harry Potter series, it’s a well written children’s/teen’s series that I think we’ll still be reading 100 years from now. Will we still be reading Twilight 100 years from now? Probably not. (I have nothing against the Twilight series, and have never read them – nor do I intend to. But I’ve heard a lot of people say that the writing is not at a very high level. That said, Stephanie Meyer has made a ton of money from the series and I don’t begrudge her that at all.)
Also, as Larry mentions, many of the classics that the writer of the NYT article mentions had Fantasy elements, including Milton’s Paradise Lost, several of Shakespeare’s works, even older works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. But the difference is that they’ve been around for years and no one questions their legitimacy as works of art, and not just as pulp/genre fiction.
My last comments on this discussion refers to the ideas that Correia mentions when it comes to collegiate writing and English classes. I’ve said before that I think the reason fewer and fewer people read today is because of the way that English is taught in schools. If you take books that were written hundreds of years ago and try to cram them down a kid’s throat you’re going to scare them away from reading. There were people in my college classes – and not just in freshmen level courses, but also in junior and senior level courses – who couldn’t read a sentence aloud without stopping and stuttering after every third or fourth word.
To immediately dismiss an entire section of a bookstore as crap just because it contains magic or hypothetical science is elitist and pompous garbage. If you’re in any kind of a position of authority to determine what people are going to be reading, it’s not only elitist and pompous garbage, but also dangerous.
*A quick look through the Wikipedia lists for the Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize, and Nobel Prize for Literature showed no authors that I know of who are definitively Science Fiction or Fantasy authors. However, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (which won the Booker Prize in 2000) has a Science Fiction slant to it, as does The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood (which was nominated in 1986). In addition, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2005 and I would definitely call that book Science Fiction, it’s subtle, but the premise of the world behind the story is a deep and interesting Science Fiction idea.
**Also, I have reviews on my Total Score page for several books by Correia, Atwood, and Ishiguro. They are all skilled writers and I would suggest any of their books that I have reviewed for anyone to read.