This year's finalists for the National Book Awards were announced, and over at Salon, Laura Miller makes a strong case that the list should have included some of the year's best genre books. Her picks include the fantasy novel Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (read our review here).
And she's quite eloquent on just why such exclusionary thinking does a disservice to great literary writing:
We live and read at a time when the lines between genre and literary fiction are being persistently rubbed away. The literary quality of the best genre novels is higher than ever, and literary novelists have increasingly embraced elements of the genres in their work. Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer last year for "A Visit From the Goon Squad," a novel that has elements of science fiction, and it's hard to regard "No Country for Old Men," by one-time NBA winner Cormac McCarthy, as anything other than a thriller. Flynn is only one among a cadre of women writers (along with Tana French, Kate Atkinson and Laura Lippman) who work within the established genre of crime fiction, expanding it into new and more challenging territory.
The traditional objections to genre fiction - that it is formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed - are not without merit, but then neither are the genre fans' familiar retorts that literary fiction is self-indulgent, feebly plotted, overwritten and dull. The average work in any fictional category will be underwhelming; what really counts are the best. I have a hard time seeing why Thomas Pynchon is regarded as an important novelist while Neal Stephenson, who writes in a similar vein but with (to my mind) more intelligence and maturity, is viewed as merely the high end of science fiction.
Her whole essay is very much worth reading in its entirety. [Salon]
Top image: Allyson Haller.