Bookish Topic Tuesday – Literature

Bookish Topic Tuesday


What’s the difference between literature and genre fiction (basically everything not literature)? It’s something that’s a little controversial, because there is a belief among some that literature is the “serious” books that are “critically acclaimed”, while everything else isn’t quite so serious, and perhaps it’s more immature. Which is frankly and blatantly wrong. Not all genre fiction is trash, and plenty of genre fiction has some complex themes and is multi-layered, and has character development, and all the ‘good literature’ stuff.

In reality ‘literature’ isn’t a genre, it’s more a ‘class’ of books. So some literature books will have fantasy elements, or sci-fi, or mystery, or dystopia or whatever. So I’d say that something like Nineteen Eighty-Four would be literature, despite it having genre fiction elements, but someone else could disagree. That’s because the term literature is open to interpretation to some degree, people aren’t necessarily going to agree upon what is and what isn’t literature. Some may argue Harry Potter is literature, while others would argue to the contrary. Some books that I have read that are literature are ones like Cloudstreet (by Tim Winton), Candelo (by Georgia Blain), Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Road (by Cormac McCarthy), Pride and Prejudice, Life of Pi and All Quiet on the Western Front. I think many of the ‘classics’ are literature, and hence that’s why they are studied in classrooms. But what about a different classic like The Lord of the Rings, I’m not sure about that classification to literature?

The main difference between literature and genre fiction is more in its focus. Genre focuses on plot, think action, adventure, romance, mystery and drama, compared to literature which is a lot slower paced and focuses on the characters and their personal and emotional journeys. But don’t think that literature doesn’t have a plot, after all there has to be some reason why people read the book, you don’t really want to read random, if beautiful, phrases (though I bet if you look hard enough someone has published something like this). Another distinction is in my opinion that literature makes you work harder, there are usually more sophisticated words, longer sentences, and complicated structure which makes it harder to read. You can’t just sit back and relax all the time, you have to work to appreciate it, and see the deeper meaning, and get the allusions, and even understand what on earth they are talking about. With genre fiction, most of the work is done for you.

Literature generally costs more, because it’s definitely more niche, and they aren’t going to sell 10 million copies (well, it’s way less likely compared to genre). Plus it’s usually also released at first in hard cover (which makes it more expensive!) which adds to it’s ‘sophistication’ and appeal to a particular audience. And literature is generally the sort of thing they study in university or senior high school classes, and from personal experience of senior high school English that’s certainly the case (I studied The Crucible, Pride and Prejudice and Candelo). I think that the term literature can extend to film and poetry and drama (see The Crucible).

Frankly literature isn’t automatically ‘better’ than genre fiction, and the real snobs who scoff at genre fiction are pathetic. Genre fiction isn’t bad just because it can be escapist, it isn’t bad for using tropes, it isn’t bad for relying on plot. Sure there’s plenty of genre fiction which is garbage, but there’s literature which is terrible too. It’s all subjective and personal, someone might love one particular thing, while another might find it drivel.

I’m not really the biggest fan of literature. Some of it is pretty good, even excellent (if you say The Book Thief is literature then this is the prime example), but some others are just too dull, and no amount of flowery language and character development is going to make me interested and liking the book. I just much rather some good genre fiction. What’s your opinion? Do you like literature? What’s your favourite literature novel? What do you classify as literature?


2 thoughts on “Bookish Topic Tuesday – Literature

  1. I admire well-done literature and genre fiction. I think The Casual Vacancy would qualify as literature and from what I’ve read of The Book Thief so far (my review of the prologue is up now), I would describe it as literature, certainly.

    I don’t know what I would precisely classify as literature, though, as any description I might think of could probably be applied to genre fiction, as well. Perhaps something that is written primarily to get a point across and influence the reader’s life? I think more writers should try to combine literature and genre fiction, honestly. I believe The Secret Garden certainly qualifies as literature. So it may be my favorite, either that or The Casual Vacancy.

    Mad Men is the best example of literature I know of in a TV show.

    Most of The New Yorker’s short stories are certainly the type of “literature” you speak of and when they print genre fiction the difference is quite telling.

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