As many of you have probably noticed, I have yet to review anything here that would be considered strictly “literary” fiction (with the exception perhaps of my spotlight on George Mackay Brown). Although I believe that I have good taste in fiction, some of my readers may question my judgement. Let’s be honest, you may wonder what there is to gain from someone who reads a lot of Young Adult literature, fantasy, and crime fiction. Quite the eclectic mix, certainly, and unusual for someone with a Master’s degree in Literature. Did you maybe think to find only the kinds of books popular with book clubs? I know a few blogs out there tend to stick to the best-sellers and the intellectual, but that was never my goal here.
I don’t think I had a specific goal in the types of books I would share, other than just ones that I loved and read recently. I know that literary theorists, like myself, often look down upon “genre” fiction. It’s actually considered a dirty word in many circles, and when people would discover my chosen field of study, they would look down their noses and go, “Oh, interesting.” For those that don’t know, as many of you don’t, my Master’s thesis focused on crime fiction and social class within crime. But even that was met with a certain amount of skepticism as literary theorists tend to shy away from genre ficiton.
Why is that? Is it not worthy of study? I have to shake my head at those who would think you could not mine a wealth of goodies out of Mina‘s Garnethill trilogy. I have never read another novel that dealt so well with dysfunctional family dynamics and the brink of sanity. Or Rankin’s Rebus series, which gives you a character so well shaped that thousands of people (perhaps more) tour his Edinburgh, just to get a feel for the detective. If these do not make the authors worthy of further study and speculation, it certainly makes me wonder why you would choose to focus on Shakespeare, as does every other scholar at some point.
Genre fiction is not just an unmined route, though it certainly is that. It is a route worthy of our look. It is no less a literature than Jane Austen, who some in the past have even dismissed as “women’s novels”. Everything is literary or not depending on the time period and who is looking at it. I personally can get a lot more out of Rebus than I can a Wordsworth poem, for instance. I do not frown upon those who choose to study poetry or plays for which I have no affinity – rather I applaud them for having a talent that I do not possess. But for myself, genre fiction gives me something more meaty with which I can play.
In my humble, slightly educated opinion, I feel that if the work (novel, short story, play, or poem) moves you, makes you feel a connection to the character, is well-executed, and provides a deeper message, then why not study it? After all, is this not the reason we have continued to pick apart Hamlet over the years? So what if the bones of the story involves magic and a One Ring? If it still gets you thinking, then there is something there worth discussing.
Some people used to laugh at the books I would choose to read in my spare time, either because they were “high-brow” or “low-brow”. I honestly enjoy a mixture of the two. For instance, on the same shelves that hold Jane Eyre, The Canterbury Tales, and My Name is Asher Lev sit such books as The Chosen One (Carol Lynch Williams), Doors Open (Ian Rankin), and Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine). Of course, these are also grouped with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Zizek, so you know my tastes are weird. What can I say? Everyone enjoys different things and everyone loves a good read. Sometimes our moods are different and in those moods we crave a different book.
After all, what else are books except to provide entertainment, identification, and a little escapism?