I hate genre

I haven’t written a post like this because, although I have very decided views (see title of post) I live in woeful, happy ignorance of the industry, the market and other words I do not like.

I like books.

There is a type of book I like most, or go to ahead of others: and I guess they’d have to be called, in the terminology, those that crossover or straddle the literary and genre (neither of which words I use).

Examples are easy. First off, Shakespeare: popular plots, art in the telling. Dostoyevsky’s novels always revolve around a murder. – If he weren’t a crime novelist he wouldn’t be my number one; it’s psych of murderers I got into him for. And things are thought difficult now or abstruse, that were popular in their own age: such as most of the medieval stuff I read.

I’ve been on a quest this year, to seek out high-art historicals and bludgeon my brains with them. When great novelists turn their hand to historical. I want to be there and see what they do – whether I understand it or not.

At a slightly less oxygen-starved altitude of art, I’ve found two or three of my ideal type this year, in historicals. The prize-winner is Robert Polevoi’s Port Royal, which is art about pirates; and Edith Pargeter’s A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury qualifies too. The depth of study of people’s heads – with battles and swordfights.

’Taint just historical I’m interested in; give me science fiction art. I always liked your arty science fiction, and arty fantasy, of course, has hundreds and thousands of years of tradition. The 1st of humanity’s writings were fantasy, weren’t they? and the writing of histfic, as I say elsewhere, is very much older than the writing of history.

I’d better not start on the publishing industry’s encouragement of genre. Mostly because I’m happy in my total pig-ignorance. If I ‘research the market’ – which I don’t do – I get depressed. My local bookstore has two stands for hf, side by side; one’s for girls, one’s for boys; you can tell by the covers, which are as clone-like as possible, and as for the contents – buggered if I want to find out. With a presentation like that.

That’s the sort of historical novelist I do not want to be. That’s why we escape the industry for the free air of indie (or so we hope and dream).

Down with genre. Up with art, high art or lower to give our intellects a rest. But my gods, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, prove there’s no need to throw out your imaginative settings, your excitement. Pirates, of course, had as much subtlety of thought and sensitivity of experience as John Brown who lives at number five and led a dull life, frankly. So – I’m here to tell you – did Mongols. I hate genre books that deny these people their peoplehood. Oh, he’s a pirate, he’ll have three thoughts in his head. Oh, he’s a Viking, he can only fight, f— and f— (hey, I’m bad at crude. Don’t worry, my people swear when they have to). I get dead sick of two of those fs, and the third, too, unless he thinks and feels.

If we must have genre shelves, put Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky on them – where they belong, and widen the concept. Give us Gilgamesh and Homer to take as examples, and not the bestseller lists, that’s like in-breeding or reductionism, I don’t know what, but it’s bad. ‘Genre’ closets, closer and closer, and we hear or know of stifled authors, who have been locked in and lose their art. In the industry, I believe, authors are told to study the bestsellers in their line. How bad an idea is that?

But then, art+industry=a marriage made in hell, and let’s not pretend otherwise, even if we have to live together. Author, know thine enemy; be polite to him if you’re under contractual obligation. I don’t know. I’m an indie who boasts about my ignorance. Perhaps I ought to have stuck to ‘books I like’, but what are blogs for?

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