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Forget the mega-bucks commercial fiction rakes in, or the billions it entertains; if a book is predictable or plot driven, it's a rotten egg.
These people are literary elitists. And to a literary elitist, mass market — or paperback — equals mentally challenged.
There are also plenty of folks who won't read a book unless, "it's about something." Ask them to think beyond plot, or to muddle through an underlying philosophy, and well... don't get me started. To these selective people, if the prose is too big or the story too realistic, the book is too "literary" (err, boring). See, if you have to reflect, it isn't entertainment.
So is it better to write really well about nothing much? Or tell a fairly superficial, but super entertaining, story?
Having just come back from Japan, where everything, and I mean everything, is trimmed, clipped, served, wrapped, worn and built to aesthetic, but also functional, perfection, I have to ask; is writing really that black and white? Why can't a novel be entertaining and well written, deep and fast-paced, pretty, philosophical and mainstream? And why draw such an indelible line between form and function?
And just what does "literary" and "mainstream," mean anyway?
Clearly, at the root of all this snootiness are assumptions about what makes "literature" literature and vise versa. I had no clue. But after some in-depth analysis (read, a brief search of the Internet and several minutes of soul searching) I've come up with a short list of several supposed distinctions. Some make sense; some would make a good baloney sandwich.
Allow me to break it down for you:
Commercial, or mainstream fiction
According to Jerry Jackson Jr, assistant editor at Writer's Digest, "One of the easiest ways to determine whether your work is literary or commercial is to ask yourself, 'Will my book be assigned reading in college English classes, or will it be sold in grocery stores?'"
Ahem... are we saying that one is necessarily better than the other? Arbitrarily assigning worthiness based on class distinctions?
And what determines whether a book is grocery store bound or college English worthy?
Personally, I've spent as many good nights with King and Grisham (if not learned more from them), as I have with Nabokov and Bronte. And I'm not saying they don't have thematic and stylistic differences, but I do submit that these writers are equally talented, and that one is no less engrossing and creative than the other. In different words, they're all worthy reads, and I'd be ecstatic to write even half as well as any of them.
In my opinion, the quote below, reprinted from Writers Weekly sums the issue up best:
"Literary fiction is character driven and connotes a certain attention to the writing itself. Commercial or genre fiction is plot driven and while there is excellent writing in commercial or genre fiction, that's not its selling point. It's a big argument really. A lot of literary writers use plots, a lot of commercial writers can write one heckuva gorgeous sentence. Basically . . . it's in the eye of the beholder/reader/critic."
Whether unique or boilerplate, fast or slow paced, profound or superficial, what matters is that a writer fleshes out, develops and records his idea in some way that does the reader a service.
If it resonates, whether way deep down or on some level akin to going on vacation, in my opinion, whether its won a Pulitzer prize or a place at the checkout isle, it's good, and thus "worthy" writing.
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