I ordinarily don’t wade into fights between genre fans and the folks who stand guarding the ramparts of Real LitRuhChure (as Michael Caine so memorably pronounced it in “Educating Rita”–the star of which, by the way, is Molly Weasley).
For one thing, it’s usually a waste of time–there’s really no way you’re going to convince Lit folks–Lit professors, reviewers at the New York Times Book Review, and other Keepers of the Canon–that they should modify their rules. You can complain about the over-abundance of dead white dudes, lobby for more people of color, demand more women, but they’re basically just going to ignore you. So I usually don’t waste my breath, even though it does indeed drive me nuts.
There are folks out there battling away, though. Jennifer Weiner, especially, is out there Fighting the Good Fight, particularly with regard to having more women be on the NY Times editorial board for the book reviews, and including more books written by women in their reviews. (They are notoriously lame about inclusion.) She also grinds my favorite axe, which is regarding “commercial” fiction which, in Christopher Beha’s long and–in my opinion–condescending response to Weiner he equates with “genre”, which is probably correct.
But the reason I’m writing about it today is because Junot Diaz basically exploded a huge segment of Beha’s argument. Beha, who says that he “write[s] for the Times Book Review a fair amount”, said that the reason the NYT Book Review rarely reviews genre is:
[Genre] fiction, even when very well made, is designed to conform to the expectations of its genre or subgenre, and usually the best that can be said about any given example of it is that it does or does not succeed in conforming to those expectations.
(Which I’m sure comes as a big surprise to folks like William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, and many, many others, along with the shades of A.C. Doyle, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Dickens (think “Edwin Drood”), Shakespeare (Think “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, for Pete’s sake!), and many, many others. But never mind.)
Diaz disassembled this argument in a single sentence.
But ultimately, I think it’s a matter of privilege. Literary writers can attack new markets without ever losing their cachet as literary writers. I don’t think that tide has raised the boats of genre writers. A literary writer who writes a sci-fi novel will get a fucking Guggenheim. A genre writer who is classically genre, writing a genre book, will not get a fucking Guggenheim.
And let’s face it: That’s basically it. Privilege. Is seems likely that Beha–in the incredibly unlikely event he reads this blog post–would be pissed off by this comparison, but to me this isn’t all that different from the Tea Partiers and their increasingly-desparate attempt to hold on to their generations-long electoral white dude advantage. They are terrified of the coming onslaught of diversity, and are doing everything they can to avoid it. They don’t understand it, and it scares them.
Similarly, it seems to me that Our Loyal Guardians of LitRuhChure don’t understand genre, the work of women writers, writers of color, trans writers, and you-name-it. But there’s so much of it out there now, and the pressure for inclusion in our society is rising so much in recent decades, that it simply can’t be ignored. So you get fights like the one between Weiner and Beha, and Beha’s pretty lame (and insanely lengthy) response.
I know you don’t like it, LitRuhChure folks, but one can find worthy works in any genre, be it science fiction, mystery, fantasy, romance, and yes even “classic” literature. So instead of defending your increasingly-absurd positions, how’s about you open up your minds and be inclusive? And you know what? It’ll probably increase your readership, too.