Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction

A fight to the death!

Or at least a fight over my tbr…

I got in a conversation with my brother in law this weekend about literary fiction. I made a joke about the Academy Awards that he didn’t find funny, because he thinks I shouldn’t criticize a bunch of movies I haven’t seen. Which is totally valid, but it was a joke. Whatever. The point was, I haven’t seen (or even heard of) a single Best Picture nominee. Mostly this is because I just don’t see that many movies anymore. I’m busy, they’re expensive, and I’m not a man so I can’t just dump my children on my partner for nine hours every week. BUT! That’s not all there is to it.

I started talking to him about how when I go to the movies, since I go so rarely, I just want to have fun. That’s why most of the movies I see are either action or comedy. Occasionally I’ll watch an uplifting drama. (Watched Blinded by the Light last night and LOVED IT.) And while I’m sure the films nominated for best picture are brilliant, they aren’t what you might call feel-good films. They tend to be heavier, darker, sadder. Sometimes they have hopeful endings, but it’s not the same as watching, say, When Harry Met Sally.

Which got me to thinking. It’s really the same thing when I read.

I don’t read the books that are going to be nominated for the National Book Award, or the Women’s Prize, or the Mann Booker. And when I do, I almost always don’t enjoy them. While I occasionally read books that make me a better person, most of the time I want to read a book that’s fun. A book that allows me to escape my troubles. A book that makes me FEEL GOOD. That’s why I loved The Goblin Emperor so much (in case you’re not tired of hearing me rant about that yet).

And the thing is, literary fiction tends to be bleak. It tends to take a stance of the world that is pessimistic. It tends to glorify the tortured artist.

Genre fiction … doesn’t. Genre fiction is so HOPEFUL. Even heavier books have a much more positive outlook on the world and the possibility of making it better. And I think that’s why I prefer genre fiction. I mean, yeah, it’s often more exciting, and sure, the books are often paced more quickly. But I think for me, the positivity and hope for a better tomorrow are what keep me coming back to it over and over.

So now that’s I’ve gotten my ranting out of the way (and honestly, this post was really just an excuse for me to rant a bit…), let’s take a look at the pluses and minuses of each, shall we?

Please keep in mind that this is MY OPINION, not a factual statement, and has to do with PERSONAL TASTE. Disagree all you want.

Literary Fiction

The Good

  • Tends to have interesting characters and strong character development.
  • Realism gives it the extra oomph when it comes to relatability.
  • Not afraid of tricky topics or unpopular opinions (mostly).
  • Some good satire and dark humor in this genre. I love me some satire.
  • Gives you a deeper understanding of the world when done well.

The Bad

  • Tends to be depressing. There, I said it.
  • Why does it always take place in New York?
  • Often slower paced and hard to get into.
  • This genre epitomizes first world problems.
  • Often views those with religious beliefs as foolish or stupid.

My Favorites

Genre Fiction

The Good

  • Generally hopeful and more fun.
  • Easier to “loose yourself in” if you read to escape.
  • Magic and/or technology and/or romance!
  • To me personally, these books feel more unique and one-of-a-kind.
  • Gives you a deeper understanding of the world when done well.

The Bad

  • Sometimes corny and/or formulaic.
  • It’s easy to miss the underlying messages/themes when you get distracted by the fun genre elements.
  • So often about the same white-male-asshole-hero-with-a-heart-of-gold.
  • Can there never be a genre book WITHOUT a romantic sub-plot? Seriously?
  • Often views those with religious beliefs as foolish or stupid.

My Favorites

So do you prefer literary fiction or genre fiction? Why? Let me know in the comments!

11 thoughts on “Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction

  1. I like both. I love the insight and deeper meaning in Literary fiction. They are though-provoking bring out something valuable, I don’t mind sadness and darkness of life. it stays with you. In genre fiction, I like fun and entertainment. Magic, technology and romance all of it. But they also have tragic ending sometimes.


  2. I will read both, but I prefer genre fiction, because it is an escape from the world we live in. Yes, genre fiction deals with a lot of struggles that we recognize as ones that we see happening around the globe, but they also have that backdrop of magic or space or time-travel or whatever, so in many ways it makes it easier to digest.

    This is a great post, Katie!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I feel like sometimes, literary fiction tries too hard to be clever (especially with narrative forms) or the message becomes more important than the story. When it works, it works, but when it doesn’t, I find literary fiction much harder to read than genre fiction (which can also touch on important topics – just look at Terry Pratchett!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I generally prefer literary fiction when I finally get through my “brace yourself” feels and end up loving it (not Eleanor Oliphant though, but I loved Eleanor herself). I like to read across all genres, too much of the same thing will have me easily bored.

    Liked by 1 person

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