Saturday, May 11, 2013

Literary Fiction

Bits of a discussion on facebook:
I am trying to figure out why I am so hostile to post WWII literary fiction. My current theory is it's due to all the periodicals I read as a kid. My parents subscribed to The New Yorker, the Sunday New York Times, The London Times Literary Supplement and -- when it began to be published -- The New York Review of Books. I read them all. (I also read cereal boxes.) I think they gave me lasting negative impression of literary fiction.

My reading in literary fiction is spotty at best. I liked Moo, The Robber Bride, Possession -- though I liked Byatt's collection of short stories The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye better. One of Alice Munro's collections really impressed me, but I can't remember the title. I love Calvino's Invisible Cities and all of Borges.

I love the novels of Paco Ignacio Taibo II, though I am not sure he is literary...

Gary Wolfe told me years ago that you can introduce science fiction to anyone by finding out what kind of mainstream fiction they like. There will always be SF that's similar. The women literary writers I like are like LeGuin. The men write fantasy. Invisible Cities reminds me of Disch's essay on building pyramids in Minnesota...

My prejudice is obviously that -- a prejudice. When I like fiction, I move it out of literary fiction category, so I can continue to dislike literary fiction. I do the same with horror. I don't like horror. When I like something, it is not horror.

I think that I needed to draw certain lines to become the writer I wanted to be. Critics of the immediate postwar era were sexist. Women could not be good writers. I can remember being sad as a high school kid, because I wanted to be a poet, and women were not good poets. At the time, my favorite poet was Emily Dickinson. Why was science fiction a better venue? Maybe because criticism was less important there. And I wanted to write about real things -- police states and the threat of nuclear war.

I'm not defending my attitude toward literary fiction by the way. It might have made some sense when I was a kid, but both SF and the mainstream have changed. I'm trying to think my way out of the prejudice.


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