Linked: Chad Taylor On Genreless Books

New Zealand writer Chad Taylor on genreless books:

Genre is really just shaped by what sells. The label has more to do with marketing than anything. It also has more to do with what editors are comfortable [with], and that shapes how the book is promoted. The good thing about [this categorisation] is that if the books do have a crime element then you can describe it is a kind of a crime novel, and after that everyone relaxes and gets on with reading it. I think that literature is, at the moment, as rigorous in its characteristics and rules as, say, chick lit. There are certain things that qualify as literature. Certain kinds of books win the Commonwealth Writers’ prize and certain books win the Booker prize. Currently [the author’s] ethnicity and [cultural] inheritance is very, very important. Which doesn’t invalidate the work or make it, but there is some kind of bias in that post-modern idea that who you are defines what you write.

Well, there does seems to be some fixation on Indian writers, particularly so when we’re talking about literary awards. Does anyone have an explanation for this?

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  • G.S. Williams

    I’m sooooooooo glad that we can comment on the mini posts now.

    First, on genre:

    I love books, and reading. I grew up reading constantly:

    Comic books, Charles Dickens, Tolkien, Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas, Sci-fi, fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Stoker and Shelley, I’d read anything and everything.

    I took that love of reading into high school and then my university English Literature major. And I read Faulkner and Golding and Salinger and Joyce and Shakespeare etc etc. etc.

    I got bored with modern science fiction in general after Robert Heinlein, because he invented it and won 4 Hugos and no one is much better, and he had entire mythologies around characters and ideas spanning decades. Almost all science fiction themes were started with Wells and Verne, and everything else is just variations on a theme. Once in awhile Asimov or Bradbury or someone will impress me, but rarely.

    The only recent Sci-fi I remember liking was The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (I think that’s right) because it blended science fiction and religion, and it was as much about anthropology and linguistics as it was space travel. It was broad and dynamic and multiple disciplines, not just its own genre.

    I get bored with mysteries and thrillers and even fantasy, because they’re formulaic. Guy Gavriel Kay was fun for a bit, but most fantasy relies on Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons. Or King Arthur. I’m a bit tired of magic and vampires.

    More later…

  • G.S. Williams

    … So anyway, genre fiction got dull because it’s usually derivative. I only like stuff that stretches the definition, and thinks outside the proverbial box.

    So that left “literary fiction” which isn’t sci-fi or fantasy, because it’s based on “real life.” But it’s so bloody dull most of the time. Joyce and Faulkner and Golding and every other Nobel or Pulitzer winner I’ve read usually either experiments so much I get bored (because the experiment could have been an interesting short story, but goes on and on and on) or it’s over rated. And then along came post modernity.

    Even text books, in philosophy and theology, have given in to the post-modern tendency to identify yourself geographically and economically, as if this really says that much about what you’re writing. As if fiction or abstract philosophical reasoning matters if you’re from Washington or Rio or Islamabad, instead of for the words on the page.

    What happened on campuses that I’ve experienced, was that anything white, western, male and privileged suddenly didn’t matter. It was patriarchal, imperialist, blah blah blah. Labelling the writer doesn’t change the past acted out by other people, nor does it improve the future — it just spreads around more prejudice.

    So post-modernity finds trends to jump on. Feminism instead of male writers. Black instead of white. African instead of American. There’s a fetishization of “authenticity” and of the “oppressed” — as if white males were still going around owning plantations and whipping people. It’s very weird.

    Right now the big thing is India — because it’s one of the largest growing economies in the world. If publishing can appeal to Indian writers and readers, it gets a new big market. It’s less controversial than China or Islam, but has numbers. It has a rich cultural tradition and history, so it has lots of untapped potential for stories. And, with its British colonial history, it’s not too too foreign for the mainstream. So it’s fetishized to appeal to the mass market sensibility that’s anti-white and Western, but can’t be too different because the mass market is still white and western.

    What a world.

    (by the way, I like the fact that anyone, anywhere in the world, can write, and the Internet can expose us to all the cultural riches out there. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be aware of other countries. I’m saying I find it weird that the way it’s structured, in critiques, campuses and texts, that I have seen, is to be prejudiced against one culture in favour of others, when the members of both culture NOW have nothing to do with the history of oppression of the PAST — because right now they’re guilt-tripping a culture for a past it couldn’t control, and that’s just as prejudicial as the original mistake. Does that make sense?)