Friday, August 20, 2010

Real Life Fiction

I read a little bit of everything. And I do mean everything. I've been known to read a romance novel or two, even. (Admittedly, one of those two was accidental, as I had no idea it was romance when I ordered it off of Amazon.) I run through phases where I read poetry or non-fiction or philosophy, and while those often coincide with there being nothing new from my favorite authors in my local library, sometimes I'm just in the mood.

The one thing I tend not to read much of is "literary" works. Those quotes around it are mandatory, as that category has taken on a life of it's own, often to the exclusion of other works that would be "literary" were they not written by the wrong sort of author.

Now, unlike some other genres, there's no real reason for this omission. I don't read much romance because it all tends to be rather formulaic. Which I understand is the appeal of the genre, to a certain extent, but boy meets girl gets a little old when it follows the same formula. (Case in point was the accidental romance novel I read, which was some sci-fi thing. It was well written, and I had no complaints about that, but the next installment in the series was a carbon copy of the one I had just read, only with new characters.) I don't read much chick lit because, well, because I'm not a chick and I found Sex in the City to be, by and large, shallow and uninteresting.

On the other hand, most of the literary works I have read I do enjoy. I find them to be the thought provoking exercises they are meant to be, and that, I've decided, is half the problem. Generally I read the genre books I read because I'm not really looking to do a whole lot of thinking. I want a smart read, don't get me wrong, but I read novels as an escape. If I'm looking for mental gymnastics, I'll pull down one of those aforementioned philosophy texts, or some of the poets I read. (Poetry, for me, seems to straddle the escapist and intellectual reads, but that's another post entirely.)

My other issue with them is that they aren't very escapist. One of the things that separates the genre is that, by definition, they are supposed to deal with real life things. Updike does not write about Martians, and by the same token one would not expect Bradbury to talk about middle-class, middle-age life without resorting to Martians. I like the escapism. I like reading about things that only nominally resemble my own life, in terms of the themes they deal with. I may not be middle-aged yet, but I know enough about the humdrums of modern American life to want to get away from it when I read.

Of course, that is also part of the appeal of the more literary authors. That examining of the life we all lead. More or less, of course. I recently read - well, more appropriately would be to say I was turned on to Philip Roth, and while one of his characters was in a profession and a life that is actually plausible as a path my own life might have taken - sans Martians - there were definite aspects that would just not happen to me. Or anyone else I know. Which is a good thing, considering.

But, it's that deconstruction of modern life, the examination of the mundane, the requirement that you think a little (or so I would hope) about what you're reading and what it all means and the themes involved, that makes the genre of "literary" fiction a pleasure to read. I can get something out of it that, for the most part, I am not going to get from King or Kellerman. Not to say the two, and the rest of the genre fiction crowd, don't make me think, but for the most part if they're dealing with themese I'm ignorning them, not poring over the text to examine them.

Does that mean I am going to be checking out more "serious" books from the library? Probably not. As I said, I read to escape, and for fun, mainly, much the way I watch movies. I like my fiction smart, but not necessarily requiring a mental warm-up before I engage with it. Yet when the mood strikes, as it does for poetry and philosophy and non-fiction, I won't be adverse to wandering through different sections of the library than I normally find myself in.

1 comment:

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