Karin Gillespie, fine writer and founder of Girlfriends Book Club (the original Girlfriends Cyber Circuit) wrote an excellent piece for The New York Times (!) called A Master’s in Chick Lit (you can read it here.) It describes very well the literary snobbism she encountered in her MFA program and how she came to realize how important it is to “embrace the gifts that enticed us into being writers in the first place,” no matter what the style.
I was lucky. I never felt much snobbery from my MFA program (I graduated in 2008), and felt that the teachers mostly encouraged us to write well, no matter what we were writing about. As one of the comments on Karin’s article stated, there should be no war between “literary” writers versus “genre” writers, as literary is simply just another genre.
I wasn’t so lucky when it came to planning bookstore appearances when my debut novel, Midori by Moonlight, came out. While I was lucky to snag appearances at the huge Union Square Borders in downtown San Francisco and the well-known indie bookstore Book Passage in Marin County, I also wanted very much to appear at my town’s largest independent bookstore, which had supported a number of local authors. But when I showed up with book in hand, naively assuming that I’d receive an enthusiastic reply from the owner, he took one look at the cover and said, “We don’t usually showcase these types of books.” He hadn’t read the book, but he seemed to know it wasn’t worthy of his time or space. Needless to say, I didn’t end up appearing there, but luckily found a new store in town that didn’t feel the same way.
In the novel writing classes I teach I always try to expose students to all different types of good writing. Along with excerpts from National Book Award winners, I also feature chapters from “commercial” best sellers. The first chapter of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a textbook example of how to write an effective beginning of a novel no matter what your style, but there are always students who balk and say they don’t read “those types of books.” Once they read that chapter, though, they are full of praise and I challenge them to write something as good for their novel’s Chapter One.
Literary snobbism is mainly based on insecurity. When Norman Mailer and his wife Norris were
It’s time to put a stop to literary snobbery. I’m not telling readers that they can’t have their own tastes and no one is saying that you have to read and like everything. But enough with the criticism and the noses held up in the air. Writers care and work hard on their novels, no matter if they’re Jonathan Franzen or J.K. Rowling. We can learn from and enjoy all different styles of writing and no one should have to think that reading a particular book on the subway will make them either “look bad” or “look smart.”
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