I came across this interesting article by Lev Grossman in the Wall Street Journal:


Grossman says the popularity of YA (up 30.7% so far this year), which he suggests is widely read by adults, versus adult titles (down 17.8%) is explained in a hunger for story, plot, pacing.

As for serious literature he has this to say: "The revolution is under way. The novel is getting entertaining again ... Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction ... They're forging connections between literary spheres that have been hermetically sealed off from one another for a century ... It's a revolution from below, up from the supermarket racks."

I have to say some of the best crime fiction I've read in recent years has been by Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn), Price (Lush Life) and Cormac McCarthy, who is also mentioned in the article. But I think the article would've been better if he'd looked in the other direction too, to people such as James Lee Burke and Martin Cruz Smith and John le Carre, authors who have long been categorized as genre writers but who transcend the genre, who simply write great novels.

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Re Benjamin's post: I don't know about that. It's been possible to write action-packed page-turners for adults without resorting to simple vocabulary, short sentences, and a general lack of substance beyond the story line. Mysteries aren't all puzzles anyway, and recent mysteries are less concerned with puzzle solving than with human beings coping during hard times. Should be entirely appropriate. And if it's escape you want, we'll take you to faraway places and distant times.
I don't think that size of vocabulary or length of sentence has anything to do with it. Too often "literature" is now about the writer and not the substance of the story or the voices of the characters.

I really can't imagine what a literary writer today would do with The Grapes of Wrath - except make it about investment bankers and college professors.
I think a The Grapes of Wrath updated with investment bankers, college professors, idealistic young campaign workers and an underlying theme of matriarchal family and modern no-roots mobility might make for a real page-turner in the right hands.

I think a good literary writer could have something great with this idea.

Too often, though, we see sub-standard writing masquerading as pretentious literary crap - that's unfortunate, as literary should not be a perjorative, but rather a compliment on deft handling of the language.

I see James Lee Burke as a literary writer, one who knows the language and is not afraid to use it. Gutsy, location and culture-specific, he still uses the beauty of the language and exciting literary constructs to tell his spellbinding stories. I'd love to see an Iberia Parish or New Orleans exodus story done on the skeleton of The Grapes of Wrath...
I have to admit, I've never seen what I would call, "sub-standard writing" in literary fiction. I have seen characters than I'm not engaged with or storylines that are barely more than complaints that the world doesn't work the way the author wants it to, but the writing is almost always very well put together.

There is an article in the Guardian today (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/sep/01/times-change-...) that refers to Margaret Atwood and her, "fierce engagement with the issues of the day." That's what people often complain is missing in literary fiction, but I would say they aren't looking enough.
Great article - thanks for posting the link!

I see a lot of literary magazines here where the short stories are puzzling, incomplete, confusing and awkward. To me, that's sub-standard writing. I expect more of writers, but am sometimes disappointed with fare that seem amateurish or pretentious. I excuse this in student efforts, but expect more from experienced writers. I am seldom disappointed in literary fiction I read in The New Yorker, though.

I've never been disappointed with Margaret Atwood. I love the way her slightly weird inventions and obsessions are compared to Dickens & Mark Twain in the article you posted. I like other literary fiction writers who deliver the goods, too: Kazuo Ishiguro, Annie Dillard, Salman Rushdie (if you have *lots* of free time) and Jhumpa Lahiri, to name a few.

Like I said, "literary" should be a compliment - and when it puts an author in this polished company, I believe it is.
Here's one more Margaret Atwood article if you can stand it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/29/margaret-atwood-year-of.... This time a review by Ursula K. Leguin. It touches on the literary-genre debate a little, with, "Margaret Atwood doesn't want any of her books to be called science fiction. In her recent, brilliant essay collection, Moving Targets, she says that everything that happens in her novels is possible and may even have already happened, so they can't be science fiction, which is "fiction in which things happen that are not possible today". This arbitrarily restrictive definition seems designed to protect her novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. She doesn't want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto. Who can blame her? I feel obliged to respect her wish, although it forces me, too, into a false position. I could talk about her new book more freely, more truly, if I could talk about it as what it is, using the lively vocabulary of modern science-fiction criticism, giving it the praise it deserves as a work of unusual cautionary imagination and satirical invention. As it is, I must restrict myself to the vocabulary and expectations suitable to a realistic novel, even if forced by those limitations into a less favourable stance."

(I really like Ursula K. Leguin, too)

But she does also point out, "None of the male characters is developed at all; they play their roles, no more." So I guess Margaret Atwood is the flip side of Norman mailer. I hope the next generation of writers will be able to develop both male and female characters.
Haven't read Atwood in ages. The last was THE HANDMAID'S TALE. I grant you technical excellence but the book was steeped in a suffocating dose of feminism. That would explain the lack of developed male characters. I generally shy away from agendas -- even by highly praised authors. It makes their understanding of the human condition narrow and biased.
I have heard good things about LeGuin but am not into SF.

All in all, it sounds as though Atwood firmly distances herself from the likes of us. Frankly, the attitude angers me. As has been said, not all genre fiction is the same; some is excellent. And invariably that happens when an author ignores the imaginary border separating literary fiction from the genre" ghetto."


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