Literary Vs. Genre Fiction: What’s The Diff And Who Cares?

I’m a reader…a discriminating and voracious bookworm. One that loves a good story, a good yarn that unravels, wraps itself around my body, ties into my brain and then releases into a pretty skein that I can put on my shelf  – wooden or digital – to enjoy another time.

That said, the literary fiction vs. genre fiction debate and which is superior kind of escapes me.

Firstly, I’m not even sure what the difference is exactly…

From what I recall hearing over the years, the adage is genre is plot driven and literary is character driven. That I can’t say is entirely accurate.

Catcher in the Rye (a perennial and personal fave) has plenty of plot – a road movie of a novel if you will – and then there’s characters you won’t ever forget like Danny Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining or any of the tortured characters in the mystery novels of Michael Connelly or the fantasy/sci-fi works of the wonderful Ursula K. Le Guin (who has brilliantly espoused on the attitudes literary snob types have about genre in her essay “On Serious Literature”)

One other difference I’ve heard is genre is considered fleeting entertainment while literature is supposed to challenge and make you think.

Hmmm. Yup you got it, I’m about to raise a finger here again…

No one can dispute that Charles Dickens’ novels were considered popular entertainment of the day. I think every one of his novels were published serially first for the entertainment of his readership that couldn’t afford to buy books but could afford the “instalment” plan.

Another difference I’ve heard bandied about is: genre is disposable – something you wouldn’t pick up again whereas literature is something that sustains – something you go back to again and again.

Yes, once again I must dispute the notion…

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