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That's Where the Party IsSeptember 1, 2010

Good morning! After this evening, I'm going OFFLINE. (I know -- what lurks out there in that wasteland? I have no idea. It's been a really long time, and I'm looking forward to it.) So if you need me, send up a flare or call one of my sisters, because I'll be camping, without even so much as a single bar of cell reception. (Attention burglars: We have a fantastic petsitter who isn't scared of anything, and our pit bull Clementine doesn't like intruders. That said, the tomatoes are finally getting ripe -- please don't enter the house (as stated, Clemmy won't appreciate it), but if you take a tomato or two, no one will mind.) 

(Wait. On second thought, don't take the tomatoes. I've only had four.)

While I'm gone, I'm posting this great bit on genre vs. literary fiction. It's a battle I still fight within myself, because I'm trained in the literary tradition -- I feel like I know what it's supposed to look like, taste like. However, my tastes (and my writing style) run right to genre and plop down crosslegged, pulling out the knitting and staying a while. So when Jenny Crusie gabs with Jennifer Weiner about genre and Franzen's new book (which I don't think I'm going to read, but feel free to try to change my mind), I listen. (I LOVE Crusie's writing workshops. Oh, but had I attended something like that in grad school. Seriously. My mind would have BLOWN. She is good at craft.)

Excerpted from the excellent and much longer blog HERE:

Have you been following the controversy over the praise and attention lavished on Jonathan Franzen for his new novel, FREEDOM? Are you planning on reading the book? Do you think there’s a difference between the way women’s stories and men’s stories are perceived, and reviewed? Do you think things are getting better?

I’ve had my knife out for Franzen ever since he dissed Oprah viewers as Not His Kind, so no, I won’t be reading his book since he made it very clear he didn’t want me (“Hi, I’m from the Midwest, I’m female, and I wear a lot of knits!”). I haven’t read the reviews, but didn’t somebody call it the best book of the twenty-first century? Making the next ninety years irrelevant? That’s fanboy stuff—“BEST BOOK EVAH!”—so I’m not paying much attention, but it appears to be part and parcel of the whole Literary Group Think, something I got more than my share of doing an MFA in fiction. One of my profs said, “Jenny, you write so well. Have you ever thought about writing literature?” I said, “No,” because it was easier than explaining that literary fiction is just another genre, not God’s Library. The people who say, “I write for the canon” have forgotten or never knew that the canon doesn’t read. People read. Fiction is not beautiful writing although that’s wonderful; fiction is storytelling. It’s putting narrative on the page that moves and transforms people, and because there are many, many different kinds of people in the world, there are many, many different kinds of fiction. There’s nothing wrong with The Literary Group—they know what they like when they read it—until they start insisting that what they like is what everybody should like, and refusing to teach anything but literary fiction in creative writing programs and refusing to review anything but their definition of literary fiction in their publications. That’s a mistake: I think they’ve marginalized themselves and are becoming more and more irrelevant. Jon Stewart sells more books than a rave review in the NYT. Nora Roberts and Stephen King reach more people than Franzen ever will. There’s the real world full of a multitude of readers with a multiplicity of reading tastes, and it’s thriving and alive and interacting on the net, changing and growing and exciting because of its fluidity and passion, and then there’s the New York Times Book Review which is born ceaselessly back into the past by the literary version of the Tea Party who keep moaning that they want their America back, oblivious to the fact that their exclusive white, male America died with Gatsby. I’m much happier being part of the “All right then, I’ll go to hell” bunch. That’s where the party is.

* Rachael, back again. I agree with all of this, wholeheartedly. However, there's a subsection of writers she doesn't mention, and that's the one into which Cari Luna fits (along with others, I'm sure) -- Cari writes gorgeous literary fiction and still appreciates moderately-well-written genre fiction (into which category I hope I fit). Yep. (And then there are the readers who gobble up both literary and genre fiction -- me again -- and and and...) 

Anyway. Food for thought. Offline soon, and have a good Labor Day Weekend!

Comments

"oblivious to the fact that their exclusive white, male America died with Gatsby"

That line right there? That's where she won my heart.

I've found that my early and extensive lit theory training stunted my reading growth (and I didn't even go into the field...thankfully, for me). I still have no idea what to read when I'm not in the capital-L Literature section. I've learned to rely on the kindness of strangers and my friends' recommendations.

Enjoy your break! The net is wonderful. Taking time off from the net is also wonderful.

Sweet woman. You're my favorite romance writer. (DH Lawrence comes in second.)

Have a great trip.

xoxo

I've recently had a break from the net and can't even type my own primary URL. That's okay. Be warned by my experience, though, that re-entry after your respite may take a little while.

Enjoy your time off! I'm looking forward to a little vacation next week, after Labor Day. 3 days at the beach. First vacation that isn't a sheep show in forever!! Can't wait...

Have a wonderful Holiday and enjoy!!!

No one is going to like this, but a lot of people (like me, for instance) read the same kind of pap that we watch on TV, stuff to escape, stuff that doesn't stretch the brain at all, that is bad for us as people and it's bad for our community and country. It doesn't matter if it's genre or not, the problem is that it's mental baby food (John Stewart is not, Steve King [to some extent] is not, but Nora Roberts generally is). It's fine for an escape, but it's bad if that's all you read, like a diet of only candy.
Sounds to me like Franzen was a stereotyping snot, but you could check the book out of the library and read it anyway, see what you think about what he wrote, as opposed to what he said.

Oh my darling Clementine... Have a great camping trip!

Thanks for the bit of Crusie thoughts. I think she's hit it spot on - Literary Fiction is another genre.

Do people really say “I write for the canon”??? Please tell me they don't really say that.

People should read what they like. If it isn't a classic, then I don't lable it literature. That's just my view of things. Everything is either a good book or not. And of course - fiction or non-fiction. What next, people will say people should only see art house films?

I try not to say "I only read genre" or "I only read contemporary lit", and mostly just say "I will read most any well written story." A good romance feels like it could be real, and that happy endings ARE possible (V. important to a twice divorced woman.)I especially like when the heroine is not the most gorgeous woman ever to walk the earth. Sometimes, the literature is just plain dull. Some, I love. There is a particular author of literature that every single time I open her books, I heave a huge sigh at the sheer joy of reading how uniquely she combines words. I often say there are those that tell a story so good the writing is less important, and others that write in such a way that THAT is what is so exciting. Just tell me a good story and I am yours. ANd it helps if you are prolific, as I read fast, need an unending supply.

For many years, I just thought that books were books were books. Either you liked the story or you didn't. Only recently have I figured out (or at least I think I've figured out) the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. Unfortunately, the books I've read that have been on the short list for some literary prize or other have bored me to tears. Like Ginnie, I appreciate the author's skill in creating a beautiful sentence, but then I get to end of the book and think, "Nothing happened here!" When I was a teenager, I felt sophisticated reading literature like that. Perhaps the years I spent watching TV instead of reading books have ruined me, but nowadays I trade pretty words for more action.

Franzen writes women like a parody. I mean they come out cartoonlike. Don't waste your money or your time on Franzen. If you need to read a contemporary author - Allegra Goodman has a book out and Nicole Krauss will have one shortly. I think in October? Did you ever read her book The History of Love - it was really great and not something that I would've read on my own but I was in a book group. Cause her husband - what's his name? Google it. Her husband writes misogynistically(maybe not an adverb)- I probably thought she'd be a crappy writer.

"Literary" fiction is an artificial category. Fiction written in commercial genres can be as beautifully done and fully realized as any other art form. Shakespeare wrote genre.

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