Sunday, January 27, 2013
On Literary Genre
I was told to read Pure by Julianna Baggott, because it is an example of literary genre. I know that in the bookstore I work at we shelve Pure in Novels rather than Sci Fi or Teen. But as I read Pure (I finished it but minutes ago), I couldn't figure out why this book was literary fiction when books like The Hunger Games and Wither are not. It would fit perfectly in the Teen section alongside those two books. The quality of writing in Pure is no better than The Hunger Games—which isn't to say the quality of Pure isn't very good, but instead that the quality of The Hunger Games is good. The point of view isn't that which is typical of YA, but it is typical of Sci Fi, and it does have a couple teenagers as dual protagonists. It's more grotesque than the average YA, but again, it would fit in Sci Fi or horror. The themes, issues, political concerns—they are all the same as ones found in The Hunger Games and Wither.
So all this isn't to say Why is Pure literary genre? The question is Why are books like The Hunger Games and Wither not literary genre? Why are they YA? What's the difference between YA and literary genre? I could ask the same thing about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.
People who discount genre, people who only read what has been deemed "literary," are doing a disservice to so many books. They don't even know what they're missing. You shouldn't be allowed to talk about the differences between literary and genre if you don't ever read genre. You are out of the loop. As John Green likes to remind us, YA is a force to be reckoned with. Sci Fi, fantasy, middlegrade fiction, romance, mystery, and horror—they have value. And this is where the important work is being done. Books that lots of people enjoy, books that people stay up all night reading—these are the books that are influencing culture and getting their ideas into people's heads. You do not have to sell your soul and throw out literary merit in order to write books people want to buy.
I could rant about this for hours. I'll just end by saying that I loved Pure and can't wait for the next book in the trilogy to come out.