Sunday, June 30, 2013

Please Don't Tell Me What I Like

I enjoy what is sometimes referred to as "literary fiction."

I understand that a lot of people, particularly genre fans, don't. And that's fine. Everybody gets to have an opinion. If you read a bunch of New Yorker stuff and you think "my god, this is nothing but oblique, narcissistic, upper-class language porn and I want nothing to do with it", that's fair. You tried it and you formed an opinion for yourself.

What bugs me is when people try to claim just because they don't personally enjoy a thing, it is objectively not enjoyable.

Every now and again, I'll run across a genre fan (or occasionally a genre author) who will make the claim that no one actually likes literary fiction- that it's nothing but a shadowy cabal of English professors who have steered right-thinking people down this awful path of conceiving of literature as nothing but symbolism and drudgery, and as a result generations that could have been enjoying themselves with stories about swords and rayguns have wandered away in embarrassment and disillusionment and not come back. The theory appears to be that they've done this in order to establish a monopoly on literary culture, thereby granting themselves all the power, status, and easily-led sexy graduate students- and anyone claiming to like literary fiction is basically an initiate into a cult, hoping to move up its nefarious ranks.

Again, I do want to reiterate that if you personally don't like symbolism or first person or stories about disaffected twenty-somethings whose parents own beach houses in the Hamptons finding themselves, that's cool. I'm not trying to invalidate your opinion.

But I love this stuff. My favorite writer, hands down, is Nabakov, and it's largely due to turn of phrase and imagery. I loved The Sound and The Fury. One of my favorite short stories in the world is written almost entirely in questions. I like second person present tense (sometimes). I am genuinely excited about subtle, ambivalent characters in stories where very little happens in the actual text. I read modern poetry recreationally. These things, when they're good, make me profoundly happy.

I also like swords and sorcery, space opera, and splatterpunk horror. Because one doesn't have to have just one favorite.

I've long since gotten used to liking things that weren't always a hit with my friends. I like fast, terrible punk rock and one of my favorite foods is eel. I have watched the movie "Deathbed, the Bed that Eats" multiple times. When someone asks me if something is good, my default response is "well, I liked it." Because I can say that, at least, definitively.

I realize part of that's just how I speak and interact with the world. But to anyone out there reading this who might be tempted to universalize:

Please don't tell me no one likes the things I love. There's at least one exception. 

1 comment:

  1. Ha! I hear you. Though I suspect some of the "reverse snobbery," is when people feel like they're being dismissed as lowbrow for their literary tastes. Literary snobs never say, "No one really likes genre fiction," but they sometimes do say, or strongly imply, that no intelligent person likes it.

    It still doesn't excuse the knee jerk reaction to dismiss literary stuff or to deny the reality of people who love it, of course. And I agree it's quite possible to enjoy a wide variety of narrative styles and story types.