Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why I hate the term "Genre Fiction"

     I already know this post is going to be much more akin to a rant than an essay. I ask you to bear with me, please.

     People in the literary scene like to throw around the phrase "Genre Fiction". When they do this, its usually in the context of "Oh, but that's genre fiction" (you'll have to imagine the condescending tone for yourself). You see, the term is an insult. Any novel that isn't, according to some literary or academic snob, high-art (definition in a bit) is garbage or smut. Its genre fiction. High-art is something that is not just for entertainment (again according to some literary or academic snob), as it adds to the world, usually by some form of convoluted social or political (or both) commentary. An example of high-art would be a novel by Jonathan Franzen. This is not in any way an attack on him. I am not saying I don't enjoy his work. What I am saying is that his work should not necessarily be held so high above others under the dubious label of it being high-art while the rest is genre fiction. There are many genre fiction novels that I find are just as well-written and offer just as much social commentary as his, but are ignored to a degree because of these labels.

     But an even greater issue I take with this requires us to examine what the term genre actually means. A genre can be defined as a set of stylistic criteria a work of art can be put in. For example, for a book to be a gothic romance, it would have to have some of these elements: love, terror, tragedy, sex, death, the supernatural, etc. By this definition, everything can have a genre or a combination of genres. In fact, a book that is considered high-art also has a genre-the genre would be that of high-art. So, to label a novel in a negative way by calling it genre fiction is ridiculous. It is a misuse of the word by snobs. I often throw the term around in relation to my own work, really just to make a point and highlight the stupidity of the idea. The simple truth is this: every book is genre fiction because every book has a genre. I write genre fiction; so, too, does  Jonathan Franzen.


  1. Doesn't matter if this is a rant or an essay, I think it's pretty justified.

    Dropped by via book blogs.. Following via GFC!
    Do check out my blog too. :)

    Madiha @The Smell of Parchment.

  2. Thanks for the follow, I checked out your blog and followed back. The Feature and Follow Friday thing looks pretty neat. =)