A weekly digest of thoughts on fiction, non-fiction, and all the news I see fit to print.
Kindred Defenders of Genre Fiction
In his preface to A Century of Sea Stories, Rafael Sabatini—best known as the author of Scaramouche and Captain Blood—begins with a warning to his readers: “This is not a book,” he writes, “for those exalted intellectuals to whom plot in a story is the sign of auctorial(1) puerility, who deprecate invention in fiction, look askance on the romantic, and for whom no piece of writing can be distinguished if it has the temerity to be dramatic.”
Though he lived well before my time, I suspect that Mr. Sabatini and I would have gotten on like a house on fire. A house on fire that subsequently exploded while the hero of some romantic adventure dove for cover—in the nick of time—in the foreground.
The argument over the merits of genre fiction, particularly in relationship to its more respected counterpart literary fiction, has a lengthy history—one that Sabatini was clearly embroiled in more than eighty years ago. In recent years, genre fiction has gained a certain measure of respectability as practitioners have eloquently defended it and literary critics have investigated the ways in which it addresses social issues and effects change within the field of literary fiction.(2) For my part, however, I prefer Sabatini’s brash and unapologetic response to those who look down on genre fiction. Though it is true that genre fiction can be as powerful as any literary work, can have as much cultural impact and as much (if not more) staying power, and can tackle as serious of subjects, it’s important to note that even if it didn’t, genre fiction would still possess a surfeit of merit simply on the basis of its being enjoyed. It needs no other recommendation, and those of us who like it should stop buying into the notion that it does and instead embrace the Sabatini philosophy: if you don’t like it, GTFO.
Strange Things Are Happening (Ain’t No Doubt About It)
I made time this week to watch the show that everyone and their brother told me I had to watch—Netflix’s runaway summer hit, Stranger Things—and I loved it. You can probably expect an essay about some of the show’s more progressive points in a couple of weeks or so, but in the meantime check out these super-cute show-related video clips:
1) Auctorial is a synonym of authorial. It is rarely used today. ⇧
2) For a great overview of the genre fiction vs literary fiction conversation, I recommend reading Arthur Krystal’s New Yorker article, “Easy Writers: Guilty Pleasures Without Guilt” (May 22, 2012), followed by Lev Grossman’s response in Time: “Literary Revolution in the Supermarker Aisle: Genre Fiction is Disruptive Technology” (May 23, 2012). ⇧