They stopped short of saying libraries should do away with genre aisles, but two local authors yesterday did urge students to challenge any perceptions they might have about science fiction, western, romance and other fiction that falls into specific categories.
Michael Petrik and Meagan Ciesla, both doctoral candidates at the University of Missouri, discussed bridging the border between popular and high literature in the Penthouse at Hugh Stephens Library yesterday, part of the Writers on the Edge series.
Although typically not considered highbrow literature, Ciesla and Petrik dismissed the notion that genre novels are “bad” literature.
“I would challenge that one is better than the other,” Petrik said. “It comes down to how you enjoy it—sometimes it’s pure escapism…If a romance novel does its job, it’s not necessarily bad.”
And with fiction such as the popular Harry Potter series, readers are starting to see genre and literary techniques merge. Historically, literary fiction has focused on character development, while genre novels rely on plot. But more writers of genre fiction are starting to describe characters and scenes in more detail, and literary writers aren’t shying away from fantasy, romance and other trends.
“You can have a zombie novel and still have literary development of characters, even though it follows a formula or conventions of a genre,” Ciesla said.
Genre authors are starting to buck conventional ideas, as well, she said, reading an excerpt from “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt in which the author describes one of the main male characters as being afraid of spiders.
“The author challenges or defies the convention of cowboy novels by making his character unique,” she said. “It’s unexpected that a cowboy would be afraid of spiders.”
Asked after the talk whether they’d like libraries and bookstores to stop labeling fiction in genre categories, the authors were mixed. On one hand, it would be nice to introduce literary readers to genre, Petrik said, but he acknowledged that genres have specific markets.
They agreed that e-readers, Amazon and other technological advances might solve that issue for some readers by allowing books to fit into multiple categories. But those purchasing books still want to know what they’re getting.
“You have to separate the art you’re producing and the product,” Ciesla said.
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