Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pop goes the lit again ...

Will Duquette at The View From the Foothills in a post titled I've Always Thought So links to some comments by Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley and novelist Richard Wheeler. Key Yardly quote:

the "literary" fiction being written in this country nowadays strikes me as so jejune, self-absorbed and lifeless that I am just about unable to read it, much less pass fair judgment on it. Instead, I find myself turning more and more to what is commonly dismissed by the literati as "popular" or "genre" fiction…

Well, I mostly agree. At least when it comes to American fiction. I liked John Banville's The Sea and last year I liked Muriel Spark's The Finishing School. But a lot of so-called literary fiction in this country portrays a world that I don't seem to encounter in reality.


  1. I am a voracious reader and read widely--genre fiction, literary fiction, classics, (I've been known to pull out my collected Shakespeare and read The Tempest every few years), non-fiction (currently reading a great biography of Ghengis Khan), and poetry. The one common denominator for me is, for want of a better word, attitude. I loathed "The Life of Pi," for example, because I felt as if the author was laughing at me in the end. Any book that thinks itself 'clever' may not even be read all the way through.

    My sense is that literary fiction books are more prone to this than genre fiction. Mysteries, science fiction, fantasy are for the most part, unpretentious, predictable (not the story per se, but its conventions). And believe me, there is something comforting about the predictability of genre in an unpredictable world.

    Best regards,

  2. Bingo! I read a lot. A ton. I used to read probably 70 percent fiction, 30 percent non-fiction. Now it's pretty much the other way around. I used to think it was me -- getting older, things (including fiction) ain't what they used to be, and like that -- but increasingly I'm not so sure. I think maybe it's "them," the people writing and -- equally as complicit -- acquiring the fiction. Perhaps my chief complaint is that so little recent fiction -- literary, mainstream, whatever you want to call it -- is about how people live and work. Is that because the people writing it (and acquiring it for publication) don't know about how people in the great swath of lower-middle, middle-middle, and upper-middle-class make their livings and their lives? My conspiracist (or is it prejudiced?) self thinks that much of it is being written by people who move from the rarefied atmosphere of prestige universities to the even more rarefied atmosphere of MFA writing programs, the result being that we get fiction that not only does not touch our reality at many points, it is all unreal in the same stupefying way. In a word, boring. There's a related phenomenon in literary magazines. Has anyone tried to read the short stories in them -- journals like Yale Review, Georgia Review, etc. -- these days? I have. Jeez, where have these people been holed up for the last 15-20 years? It's even spilling over into general interest magazines like the New Yorker and Atlantic, though of course they no longer publish much fiction of any kind. If that's high-grade fiction, give me the Saturday Evening Post.