July 21, 2011
Literary fiction defined
1. Literary fiction is whatever English professors can teach without being ironic or apologetic. Novels will move in and out of academic fashion according to the prevailing intellectual trends.
2. Genre fiction that has become sufficiently obscure, inaccessible and fossilized in the public mind turns into literary fiction. (Shakespeare, Dickens and Chandler being three examples.)
3. People who read and write literary fiction attend "conferences" and read and publish in "journals." People who read and write genre fiction attend "conventions" and read and publish in "magazines."
4. People who write literary fiction earn tenure. People who write genre fiction earn royalties. (Though in purely monetary terms, the former is often more valuable than the latter.)
5. Literary fiction is whatever can be taught in high school without anybody getting in trouble with the parents, the school board, or local politicians. (Although 5 is a subset of 1, not all of 1 qualifies as 5.)
6. Literary fiction is that which everybody is expected to respect, but nobody actually reads. Genre fiction is that which nobody is expected to respect, but everybody actually reads.