Monday, January 29, 2007

J.M. Bertrand Weighs in On Lit-Lit vs Pop-Lit

The Charis Connection has authors answering one of those questions that has been the topic of blog-gy debate during the last year or two:

Do you believe pop fiction and literary fiction are equals or that one is better than the other? Why?

You might want to see how they answer. Generally, egalitarianism is ruling.

Do you agree?

I like J.M.'s response, which includes some good advice:

Is it better to entertain or to challenge?

Ah, but it isn't so simple, because every author must entertain. One of the misconceptions about literary fiction is that its readers derive something other than entertainment from it. I read what I read because I like it, not because it makes me a better person, challenges my worldview, or whatever. If I avoid a lot of popular fiction, it isn't because I don't like to be entertained; it's because that kind of stuff has lost its power to entertain me. But you know what, there's a lot of literary fiction I avoid for precisely the same reason. At the end of the day, we all read for pleasure, and there are some things we can appreciate and others we can't. I think it's a nobler goal to present a compelling, idiosyncratic view of reality than to keep a reader entertained for a few hours, but I want authors to do both, and I don't think either ambition is confined to a certain type of writing.

If you're a reader, my advice is to read the best books you can, and develop a palate for even better ones. But realize it's a subjective, unscientific process and ultimately the only person you have to please is yourself. If you're a writer, I say write what you do well. An author with artistic instincts is going to have a hard time writing certain kinds of fiction well, just as one with popular instincts will have a hard time going against them. My early reading consisted of comic books, illustrated classics and trash. My academic training focused on literature. My tastes run across the spectrum -- like most people's -- and my writing is somewhere in the broad, fuzzy middle, the result of following my instincts and using the tools my various influences have provided.

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