Mar 7 2012 9:28am

Author Michael Chabon on Genre Prejudice

“Please do not turn [genre fiction] in to this [writing] workshop.”

Does this sound familiar? At the very least, it’s reassuring to know that romance is not the only genre that is discriminated against.

Author Michael Chabon, who wrote the screenplay for the film John Carter (opening Friday), talks about prejudice against his favorite genre in an interview with Wired:

“I had workshop leaders who just out-and-out said, ‘Please do not turn science fiction in to this workshop,’” he says. “That was discouraging, obviously. If I had had more courage or integrity I might have stood up to it more than I did.”

He goes on to say he takes inspiration from 19th century writers such as Charles Dickens who “combined social realism with crime fiction, ghost stories, and anything else that struck their fancy.” But writing and views on what contituted good writing changed because of  "economic and financial and marketing reasons, and...snobbery and academic laziness.”

How can genre readers respond to literary snobs?

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Myretta Robens
1. Myretta
They do not deserve the compliment of rational opposition (Jane Austen - Sense & Sensibility)
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
OF COURSE Jane has the perfect rebuttal. Thanks, Myretta.
Vanessa Ouadi
3. Lafka
When someone tells me romance is a lame and inferior subgenre of real literature (with a capital L), I generally answer that romance is a form of literature as any other : it has its own codes, its own subgenres
(historical, contemporary, paranormal, erotic, etc.), and, as every kind
of books, its own highs and lows.

As well as for any book, you have some selection to make between which author's writing style you prefer, what kind of storyplot attracts you the most, etc.

It's just the same for every kind of literary genre : for those who are
into it, it's a genre per se ; for those who are rebuked by it, it's not
even literature. Shame, really. Every literary genre as its legitimacy,
its own historical and cultural roots, its own evolution.

I don't feel offended when someone jeopardizes my intelligence because I read romance, first hand because I consider romance worth reading and second hand because I read all sorts of literature, by various authors, from various eras, from various literary movements, from various countries and in various languages. It's pretty silly to denigrate a particular kind of literature without even giving it a try, simply because you consider yourself too clever for that.

If the person I'm talking with goes on snobbing my literary tastes, I generally end the conversation with a french saying : "La culture, c'est comme la confiture, moins on en a, plus on l'étale".
4. anievan
I've never read anything by Michael Chabon - yet. It's obviously time to rectify that. How nice to hear his sentiment on Dickens and writing. Inspiring.
Rakisha Kearns-White
5. BrooklynShoeBabe
At the library where I work, it irks me when an adult asks for a children's or YA book and then sheepishly admits it is for themselves. I smile encouragingly and tell them "No judgments." I hate classism when it comes to books. Classism kept me from reading "the classics" out of fear that they would be boring or above my intelligence level until I read some and learned I was wrong! The same classism kept me from rediscovering romance novels for years believing I was intellectually above them. Usually, when people insult a genre, I respond with a flat "Whatever."
Rakisha Kearns-White
6. BrooklynShoeBabe
@anievan, I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (he won the Pulitzer for it, I believe) and it was a great book! It is huge but wonderful.
Candice Burnett
7. SleepyVamp
I teach literature at university so I absolutely understand what Michael Chabon is talking about. Some professors maintain a strict code about what is and what is not worthy of being called literature, however, I am happy to say, I am not one of them!

My research is primarily on the Gothic and I get a lot of sideways glances for not tackling something more "culturally significant." Even within the genre, there is a hierarchy of texts - Stoker, Shelley and Bronte versus the "penny dreadfuls" that are less well known. Without those penny dreadfuls, we wouldn't have, firstly, the legacy of literacy across all economic boundaries, and secondly, the literary basis for our horror/fantasy/urban fantasy genres we enjoy today!

"Classics" are not written by authors, they are made by critics at conferences and stuffy professors in universities. Dickens didn't set out to write a classic, he just wrote, as all writers to, because they have a story to tell. I read "Great Expectations" at least once a year not because of its pedigree but because it is a great book. Let's all just agree to read great books, regardless of where or when they were written.
Vanessa Ouadi
8. Lafka
I just learned, from Wikipedia, that there actually a word to designate fictions that are not considered "serious fiction" by literary standards : the so-called "paraliterature". Basically, it is used for every single book that wasn't written by "chart-topper" authors. It is not _ again, according to wikipedia _ for romance or science fiction only. Paraliterature designates also fantastique novels, historical novels, utopia/dystopia novels, crime fiction, spy fiction, adventure novels, graphic novels, and so on.
I can't believe some people created a brand new word to convey literary snobism.
9. heatherturner1985
i dont care who my books are written by or what number they are on a chart, i love to read and i have read stephen king to kresley cole to james patterson and jane austen. if you cannot open your mind to any book that comes your way then maybe you shouldent be reading at all :)
Cristina P
10. krissapl
@Lafka. Yep, I was in highschool when I learned that term, as our national language teacher ask us to read one paraliterature book as homework and summarize it. I read Dune and absolutely loved it.
She's still the most interesting and influential teacher I've ever had.
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