One of the other librarians in my department just sent me this link to a NY Times article on the best work of American fiction in the last 25 years (you may have to register to see the article - but it's free!)
Big surprise here - it's all literary fiction and the panel of judges (outside of Stephen King - I can't believe those hoity-toity types invited him!) are all writers with a serious literary bent. Not that King doesn't deserve literary accolades, but he's still carrying the stink of a "genre fiction" hack to many in the literary community. Personally I hope he's rolling around naked in all his money - but that's just me.
Anyway, I had a point...
I'm not going to dispute any title on this list - mainly because I tend to avoid literary fiction like the plague. Why? Because I had to read this kind of crap for a very long time thanks to the current educational requirements it takes to become a librarian.
That would be - high school graduate, 4-year undergraduate degree (mine is in history) and a master's degree in library science (I got mine in a year and a half).
I had to say, do and read a lot of stuff against my own free will during this time period. Think of it as academic whoring.
All I could think about while I was in college was getting out. The sooner, the faster, the better.
So it goes without saying that now that I'm free (FREE!), the last thing I want to do is force myself to read something that makes me think.
Contrary to that last statement - I am not a complete dumb ass. No, somewhere down the line (Mom maybe?) I equated reading with fun. Reading = Fun. I still think that today. Reading shouldn't be a chore. Reading shouldn't be hard. It should be pleasurable. In the right circumstances it can even be orgasmic.
That's not to say that genre fiction hasn't "taught" me anything. I can remember turns of phrase and passages from genre fiction books I read years ago. I can recall why a book moved me. Especially romances where the author has to write a deep, emotional connection between her characters in order for the story to work.
The literary community has always felt that genre fiction has no value because it's fluff. It's written by hacks only out to make a buck. And ::shudder:: the common man reads genre fiction. The horror!
I argue that anything that requires your mind to work can't be all bad. Leisure activities that cause one to "zone out" do not actively keep you engaged. Reading anything keeps you engaged. You cannot "zone out" and still read a book. Not possible! Cannot happen!
So why not read something fun? Something engaging? A page turner? Something that keeps you up all night? Hey, as great of a writer as I'm sure Philip Roth is - how many people has he kept up at night? Now ask yourself - how many people have lost sleep thanks to Stephen King?
Probably a few more.
Yet who is considered the "better" writer?