Has a romance novelist ever won a Pulitzer/Nobel Prize for literature? Any YA writers in possession of a MacArthur Genius Grant? A Guggenheim? These prizes are supposed to indicate great achievement in creating literary works of distinction, so why aren’t too many (any?) ‘popular’ novelists making the grade?
I’ve seen statistics which sugggest that romance novels are the highest-selling genre of fiction. Wikipedia confidently reports that 74.8 million people read an English-language romance novel in 2008 – and that the revered literary icon Jane Austen is the pioneer of the genre (who knew?) So why can’t I shake the feeling that romance novels, and other forms of popular fiction, are considered the literary novel’s poor relation?
The difference, real or perceived, between literary and popular novels became a lot more important to me while finishing ‘Getting Some’. I wondered how my book would be regarded – a trashy beach read or a funny, inspirational novel? True, I didn’t aim to be a modern-day Shakespeare, but I did pour my heart and soul into the subject matter and was hopeful that, in some small way, it illuminated an aspect (or a few aspects) of being human and being female. So what characteristics define a literary novel and what makes a popular novel less-than-literary?
I took to the web in search of an answer I could live with. I got quite an earful here and some useful pointers here. As in this post the distinction tended to come down to whether the work attempted to shed greater light on the human condition or just to entertain.
What if the writer was trying to do both? Of course I want readers to laugh out loud while reading ‘Getting Some’ but I was kinda hoping they’d see the bigger message at the heart of the book, too, in circumstances and situations that they could easily identify with.
I think I like Stephen King’s definition of popular fiction best, which I found here when he said (popular fiction is) ‘fiction in which readers recognize aspects of their own experience—behavior, place, relationships, and speech’.
If one person gets more than just a laugh from ‘Getting Some’, maybe that’s the only literary endorsement I’ll ever need.