Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction: A War of Terminology

literary versus genre it's a conflict that never really existed much like the Holocaust no no we move um I'm sorry that came out wrong it's a conflict that never should have existed much like the Holocaust I'm sorry I make mistakes I'm not perfect I'm not Hitler after all horribly offensive intro has a purpose i swear so imagine that the Holocaust was written as a novel not to say that the Holocaust is fiction and it only existed as a novel let's say that the real events of the Holocaust or fictionalized in a novel form okay just want to make sure I get that clear now this book would quite obviously be categorized as a war novel right alongside looks like city of thieves by David David Benioff a farewell to arms by Ernest Hemingway and the amazing amazing catch 22 by joseph heller all of which are war novels but they are literary as well what how can the speak to genre versus literary these terms genre and literary are not mutually exclusive categories in fact every novel is genre every novel is genre every novel is genre one more time every novel is genre genre is just a fancy term that means category simple as that so what does literary fiction mean then it's basically fiction that considers itself more than just a vehicle for entertainment literary fiction challenges the reader to confront you know social norms challenges the reader to appreciate language on a heightened level or just challenges a reader to think think of the term literary as simply an overlay to existing genres this is a concept that I first learned about started to really appreciate after I interviewed the author Brien evenson for the velvet podcast which I'll link that audio interview down below if you want to check it out so I think rather than discuss books as genre versus literary it might be more really more appropriate to discuss them as literary versus non-literary although you know that does put an implied priority or an implied importance on the term literary since the nonlinear version is really just the capital o other of literary but I digress otherwise you could potentially talk about them and way in a way that a lot of critics do by just saying literary versus mainstream or literary versus commercial fiction I like those terms a little bit better but not much okay so back to the Holocaust man can dream canning okay I'm going to do that anymore I promise ok so I would argue that any novel dealing with the war are written about the war would be considered a literary novel simply by virtue of its content when you write about a topic like a war or specifically the Holocaust you can't do it without forcing the rear to think about real human suffering right there's an evolution in the language right i mean i know that there's a difference between the term genre as an adjective to describe a type of book and then asiana as a noun that's really used as a classifier I know there's a difference and I know in common usage when someone uses the term genre to say that is a genre book rather than it belongs to a specific genre the implication there is that that book if sort of fits into a more accessible category of fiction so there's may be accessible and inaccessible might be another distinction to make and that's probably what most people are thinking of when they think of the term genre because a lot of times especially fans of what people consider genre fiction are anti literary fiction because literary fiction often times comes across as self-important and dull and it definitely can pay to satisfy my earlier statement about how every novel is genre every novel is genre every novel is genre satisfied that i would say that most of those books that people tend to find boring would be categorized as maybe domestic fiction because a lot of times it just it's fiction that takes place in a home and when you have two characters especially two characters who are married and know each other it's very easy to I don't say very easy i guess it's necessary to elevate the situation above the simple plot conventions because if you just have two people in a room and you're trying to ram plot-driven story around that it's not going to work you've got to get inside the heads of the characters and you've got to sort of manipulate the characters and really in turn and force the reader to be manipulated by the characters domestic fiction a lot of times that some one of the one of the pejorative terms I think people use is kitchen sink drama that can make sense you know something that's kind of in that takes place in a domestic setting academic fiction would be another one in thats fiction that takes place at an academy not fiction used for academic purposes so a straight man with is a great novel by richard russo that people would I think consider that definitely has literary qualities and that's its purpose but it largely takes place on a college campus Wonderboys by michael chabon is another one so those kinds of books i think people who are fans of what would traditionally be turn to John were fiction would find those books probably pretty boring but they are asiana they are a genre they are hey shona give your two cents three cents for bits whatever you want in the comments below and and and it's maybe we can start kind of a discussion on this whole thing it's a never-ending discussion it'll never end not that I ever wanted to when it's being talked about if there's people talking about it that means that it's important in some sense so give me your ideas your thoughts on the topic in the comments below also please please please be sure to subscribe if you haven't subscribed by clicking a button over my shoulder one other two also liked the video if you liked it disliked it dislike it if you did not like it middle like it if that's a possibility on your screen and if it is screenshot that because that would be awesome

24 thoughts on “Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction: A War of Terminology

  1. You really lost me with the intro, dude. I get shock value is in service to a point, but I don't know who you are and what your views are, and the intro really put me off the rest of the video before I could find out.

  2. I only amateur, but wonder if literary writing involves more allegory, metaphor, symbolism, poetics, delves more into the metaphysical, different layers of meaning, what is meaningful or ruminative, nonlinear, and not as much what is plot oriented or entertaining in a bold action or surface reactionary way. I think though that literary can be entertaining too. Let me know what you might think, if I'm wrong and why in that regard.

  3. Not only is everything genre, but everything is, by definition, also literary fiction. "Literary fiction" is nothing but a marketing term, used by the publisher to give its book more credibility and a better chance at winning the Pulitzer. It is a term publishers use to give their book more credibility. Something that has always bothered me is the subjective way book stores separate literary fiction and genre fiction novels. Some fantasy novels will be placed in the literary fiction section (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Wicked, Watership Down, etc.), while other fantasy novels that have all the qualities of a great "literary fiction" novel are placed in the fantasy section (Book of the New Sun, Tigana, Mythago Wood, The Last Unicorn, etc.) Again, it's nothing more than a subjective marketing term. We should just do away with calling books "literary fiction" and start calling them what they are. Put contemporary novels among other contemporary novels, historical fiction novels among the other historical fiction novels, fantasy and science fiction novels among other fantasy and science fiction novels, so on and so forth. That would give readers more insight into the nature of the book than calling some novels "literary" and others genre (and make book stores easier to navigate). Let ME determine the literary value of a book, not the publishers and the book stores.

  4. I'm using this video to help with my English lit degree….so thanks!

  5. I think a wonderful example of the confusion of “literary” versus “genre” fiction can be found in Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”  This is clearly a literary novel that happens to be science fiction but is generally shoehorned into the genre end simply because of a genre prejudice against science fiction broadly speaking.  This attitude has lessened over the years but is still very much alive.  Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” also comes to mind here but is generally more acceptable under the “literary” umbrella, mainly, I think, because the science fiction aspects of it are much more in the background comparatively.

  6. I think the real dilemma hear is character driven vs action driven stories.

  7. The distinction has always been something that has confused me as a writer (even more so as I started with poetry.) I mean I would like to challenge the reader to think about their world beyond the pages, though I don't really like the either or thing.

    I mean as far as I know, Literary Science Fiction exists (depending on how you defining science fiction.) I've sort of shied away from the term myself for cross-genre or non-genre work.

  8. People consider the term, literary fiction, a snob term or elitist literature. I don't think that's true though, it's kind of annoying that people label literary like that. 

  9. Thanks. You're probably right. At least from the marketing angle. Not so much that more genre types have to be invented, but that they have to be given a name so that they can be properly categorized on a bookshelf. Have a few, overarching, "umbrella" genres just makes things a bit easier, I think.

  10. Hi, I enjoyed your video. I have written a book that I have difficulty placing in any genre. It seems like sci-fi but isn't really; it might appear as fantasy but doesn't really qualify as such. Your statement that every book is genre is interesting and probably true. But I have the impression that more and more types of genre have to be invented in order to satisfy this it.

  11. Why thank you. I had quite a bit of fun making it, as you can see.

  12. I never thought about that. Interesting. It makes sense. I know that some authors, when they jump genre only once or twice, they might use a pen-name so as not to alienate readers who have come to expect a specific type of writing.

  13. And then the year after that, the author might write a ghost story of some kind or historical fiction. So not being able to anticipate the genre of the next book or pin an author solidly to a genre, make create the impression that because the author is not tied to a single genre, by extension their works are also genre-less and therefore literary.

  14. I think one way some people commonly try to distinguish between "literary" fiction and genre fiction, might be an extension of where they place the author. I agree with you that all literature can be placed in a genre, but I can see people thinking about individual works as a part of a particular genre when the author genre jumps so often. A author that is considered to make literary work might write a domestic novel one year, and then an academic novel the next year.

  15. I'm gonna make it a must to read one of your novel by March 24 (my bday)!!! This will happen.

  16. I'd say my stuff is literary. I might have a few "pure entertainment" stories out there, but I'd say mostly they make a person think. I hope anyway.

  17. so what do you write?? literary or non-lit?
    great video!!! as always

  18. When a literary novel becomes popular it also becomes comerical. It becomes a highly orginal novel which is popular. Most ppl tell me PoMo is a genre and lump books like Infinite Jest into that category.

  19. GENRE is used as a type of classification usually in the book/media biz so it makes it easier for consumers to understand what they are buying. It can also serve as a FASHION. Genre writers CONFORM to rules and usually end up creating something safe and easy to MARKET. Literary writers destroy RULES to create something unique but comerically dangerous. Infinite Jest is Literary. PKD is genre but its damn good genre(comerical).

  20. You're putting a versus between literary and genre here, which is what I argue against in the video. So, you won't have any arguments from me on your logic. I think Infinite Jest would be considered genre. I haven't read it, so I don't know what genre that would be, but again, every novel is genre.

  21. Plenty of crazy stories are deemed literary. Kafka's The Metamorphosis, a lot of Philip K. Dick's stuff, House of Leaves, all crazy (not Bizarro), but crazy and literary. If we look at movies as a model, Shawn of the Dead would most definitely be literary, even though it's about zombies. Just being bizarre or Bizarro, in my mind, doesn't exclude it from being literary.

  22. 2/2: Why isn't Infinite Jest considered genre? It's completely unrealistic, but, DFW's name is on it, and the "serious" critics take it as "literary genius" and completely ignore the fact that the whole book is complete bullshit when compared to what could really happen to the US. I guess it just depends on what people are willing to take as serious.

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