Genre . . . literary . . . what does it matter?

So that’s World Book Day/Night over and done with, then. Bang or whimper? Not sure, it was hard to tell from where I was sitting. Anyway, what I saw quite a lot of in the programmes on BBC was the literary vs genre rivalry carry-on. It’s a bit ‘playground’ really, like two children arguing over whose dad could beat up whose. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.Reading is reading, writing is writing. Why can’t we enjoy it all? Sure, there’s some crappy genre fiction just like there’s some crappy literary fition, but everyone has different tastes, right?

The Culture Show special had a literary reader sampling genre fiction and investigting why people like crime or thrillers or romance, while the following programme was all about finding literary authors . . . and what struck me is that ‘literary’ is a genre, isn’t it?

Anyway, who am I to say? All I know is that it makes me wonder where I fit in. I don’t know which box I should get into. Whose bed. You see, I’m not sure my writing adheres to any of those genres, whether it’s crime, thriller, literary or whatever.

For a moment, watching those programmes, I thought maybe I need to be more genre specific – follow the big names by inventing an action hero for a series of thrillers, or creating a cop for a series of crime novels – but the truth is that I like a wide range of books and stories and I don’t really set out to write in any specific genre. I just write what comes out and hope that it will appeal to people. The only problem for me (and my publisher) is getting people to pick the books up. If you only read crime/romance/thrillers/literary, you might not think Dry Season is for you . . .

. . .but you might be wrong.


2 thoughts on “Genre . . . literary . . . what does it matter?

  1. There’s been a great deal of snobbery associated with so-called ‘literary’ fiction. I think the term is a complete misnomer. If you look up the word ‘genre’ its definition is ‘a kind of literary or artistic work’. Labelling a novel within a certain genre is simply trying to catagorise it so that readers at least have a basic idea of the subject matter. A literary novel still has subject matter (except for the really irritating nilistic ones that are essentially about nothing at all!) so still can be categorised into one genre or another.

    But when all’s said and done people should just read what they want. I read (and write) various genres. I would get bored concentrating on just one. As for literary…well, if you read a literary novel that you can’t categorise just call it a drama… 🙂

  2. I guess we like to put things in boxes – we do it for so many things, not just books.

    Graham Greene apparently divided his books into ‘serious fiction’ and ‘entertainments’. I’m not sure about his ‘serious fiction’ category – it seems exclusive to me – but I like the idea of ‘entertainments’ because I think most readers expect to be entertained when they pick up a book. I know there are those who are looking for rich prose in which to lose themselves, but surely it’s not a bad thing if it’s also entertaining. ‘Drama’ works just as well for me.

    Anyway, I suppose the point I was making is that genre can help a reader to choose something they’ll like, but it can also mean they might miss out on something because it’s ‘not the sort of thing I normally read’.

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