11.21.2013

Out in the cold

Last night, the National Book Awards were announced. And, as usual, I haven't read a one of them. When the Nobel Prize was given to Alice Munro, I had to admit that I'd never read her either. Then, earlier this week, Flavorwire* published a list of the "50 Books That Define the Past Five Years in Literature." I have read four of them. I've bought several of them for my library's literature collection. But there a more than a few I've never heard of.

Even more regrettably, this is not an unusual occurrence for me.

A nook is a nook to
a dedicated reader.
I've written before (and ranted at length) about how nebulous a concept the literary canon is. It's like money or language; it has meaning because we agree that it does. Lately, I've been feeling more and more like my definition isn't matching up with the literary world. Or perhaps that literary world is drifting away from the rest of us. (The cynical side of me would argue the latter position.)

The easiest solution would be for me to make a bigger effort at reading literary fiction, even though the genre doesn't appeal to me and comes from a very different world than I come from.

What I really wish, in my nerdiest of bookworm hearts, that genre fiction--science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mysteries--got more respect from the gatekeepers of the literary world. Every now and then, a literary writer will cross over into genre waters but it seems unlikely (if not impossible) for the opposite to happen. Yet I feel that genre fiction is turning out some incredibly vibrant and meaningful literature. I want Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin to win Nobels. I want to see China Miéville, John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, and others to win national and international book prizes outside of their genres. Mostly, I want the snobbery to end.

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* Admittedly, not the most authoritative source for literary criticism.

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