Genre Fiction, Literary Fiction, The Revolution of Brains

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Braak, crotchety ranting, reviews

I was going to write a long piece about this thing here, by Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, which is a book of which I liked about 60%.  The piece is about how genre fiction is more than just escapism, there’s psychological merit to fantasy fiction et cetera and so forth.

But the more I think about it, the more I don’t get why anyone would bother.

GUYS.  Genre distinctions are for librarians and bookstore clerks.  You use them to group together books that are kind of like each other so they’re easier to find.

If you READ books, then the only two distinctions that matter are:  Interesting Stuff and Dumb Stuff.  And really, there’s no hard distinction; books that challenge you, that improve your intellect in some way, that give you new perspectives and ideas…those are Interesting Stuff.  Interesting books have a large apportionment of Interesting Stuff.  Dumb books don’t.

Up, down, period, the end.  Everything else — fantasy (and its distinctions:  epic, high, urban, &c), science fiction (likewise hard sci fi, space opera, space cowboy TV shows that probably would have dropped off in their second seasons), mystery, horror, “Young Adult” novels, Books by Michael Chabon, ET CETERA AND SO FORTH, it’s all hokum.

The thing of it is, the reason that Epic Fantasy — for example — the reason that people think that’s a dumb genre that’s not improving in any way, or whatnot, it’s not because there’s something implicitly not interesting about Epic Fantasy.  It’s because it’s all the fucking same.

What the hell is this, oof, nevermind, I don’t even care that much.  Lev Grossman, sometimes I don’t even KNOW man.

  1. […] —Braak, who also briefly explains why epic fantasy is dumb Posted under: Quoted | 23 May 2012, 10:49 pm […]

  2. Jesse says:

    I think “Young Adult” is my second favorite “genre,” right after “Graphic Novel.”

  3. braak says:

    “Young Adult” is like a category that says, “It’s basically exactly the same as any of the other pre-existing categories, except no sex and a much smaller vocabulary.”

  4. braak says:

    I also like all the stories about why “Young Adult” books are catching fire and taking over the world.

    “Why do so many Americans love Young Adult novels? What is the secret?”

    “Well, most Americans don’t read so good, and are dummies.”

  5. Jesse says:

    It also has the mysterious effect of making publishers and agents dumb. I’ve had maddening conversations about ways to make a regular adult book work as YA. Not sure why; is it the only thing they know how to sell? An agent once said to me, “I’m just not sure where it goes in the bookstore,” and I said, “Most likely under ‘P’ for my last name.”

  6. braak says:

    It’s because “Young Adult” as a concept is hot right now. The peculiar thing is less that publishers want to sell “young adult” books (they read a lot of articles telling them that “young adult” books are selling a billion copies) — it’s less that than the fact that no one seems to have noticed that pretty much all you have to do to make a book a YA book is slap “YA” on it and put it in the Young Adult section.

    “How would it work as a Young Adult book?”

    “Exactly the same way, only we’d put it in the Young Adult section.”

    It’s not rocket surgery. And yet.

  7. Jesse says:

    Ha, yes! Just like that special “no longer YA” edition of The Graveyard Book!

    In retrospect, the problem that agent had was that it was an adult book ABOUT a young adult. So, it’s really my fault that she was hopelessly confused.

    Still not as bad as the time another book was rejected because it wasn’t YA enough, and when I reminded the guy that it was not for young adults he said, “But it’s a graphic novel!”

  8. braak says:

    Or the suddenly YA “version” of Ender’s Game.

    I’ve got to admit, I don’t really get how agents are supposed to work. Like, don’t you get an agent so that they will figure this stuff out?

  9. Jesse says:

    I think in the old days, when agents were amazing, they were more like union negotiators, making sure writers got paid and that they didn’t accidentally sign away all their foreign rights for nothing. Then, once that labor battle was won, they started behaving more like career guides, navigating the different houses and editors and who was paying what, etc., and even doing some in-house manuscript development before submitting for maximum hit potential. It was a specialized service that you had to be really good to get.

    I think what happened next is that editors realized their agented submissions were so much better and more sellable than what they could find in their own slush piles that they stopped taking unagented submissions entirely, essentially farming out their time-tested editorial development process to agents. So now agents are actually frontline freelance editors for all the big houses, tasked with delivering sure things in exchange for continued access, which is now at more of a premium than it was when there were only a handful of really good agents as opposed to now when there are 80,000 amateur agents.

    So now agents don’t figure ANYTHING out — they’re in a volume business, trying to keep their heads above the slush, so they have to just take the already-done easy sells and shove them out as quickly as possible. Now they have to develop entire lists for the publishers rather than develop authors. Writers I know are consistently disappointed by it … The IDEA is still there, that you hand your agent a manuscript and they take care of the rest. But the increasing reality is that your agent is really a courier service for that manuscript. That’s why a lot of writers just take their books directly to the Kindle Store — same result, less hassle. 🙂

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