It’s that time of the year (or month?) again. The great literary vs. genre fiction death match enters round 316.
This time around the initiating event was a BBC program entitled The books we really read, broadcast in honour of World Book Night. According to the program, the books we (well, the British public) really read are crime fiction, thrillers, chick lit and romance but not SF, fantasy or horror. This enraged Stephen Hunt, who writes some pretty good Steampunk, so much that he wrote an angry post complaining about the onesidedness of literary coverage in the media at SF Crowsnest and a similar post at his own blog. The Guardian has picked up the subject as well.
My initial reaction to this was, “Well, what do you expect?” Because the news that literature and culture shows on TV mostly limit themselves to contemporary realist fiction and rarely touch popular fiction or speculative fiction is about as self evident as “water is wet”.
Now I don’t know about Britain, but German literature and culture programs regularly ignore speculative fiction and genre fiction in general. Crime fiction may get an occasional nod and there is one genre-friendly critic who occasionally discusses genre fiction. He reviewed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Hunger Games among others. I don’t think I have ever seen a romance and chick lit novel reviewed or discussed on German TV at all. And come on, do you really want to have Marcel Reich-Ranicki reviewing speculative fiction? Not that it wouldn’t be funny, it would be absolutely brilliantly funny. Which doesn’t change the fact that the sort of highbrow critics you find on TV shows are utterly unsuited to reviewing popular fiction.
I wouldn’t mind if literature programs discussed books that are actually read by people who are not regular viewers of literature programs, but that’s not the way it is. And as it is, the purpose of literature programs on TV is to discuss literary fiction. That’s why I watch them, to get a gist of the discussion about the literary novels of the moment without actually having to read the damn things. And, in the good old days of Das Literarische Quartett because it was so damned funny to watch Marcel Reich-Ranicki tear into the the books discussed and sometimes into co-critics Hellmuth Karasek and Sigrid Löffler. Oh, and by the way, the book over which Marcel Reich-Ranicki and Sigrid Löffler had their infamous fallout*, when Reich-Ranicki called Löffler a “prude who obviously has issues with love and sex”, was South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. Which is as close as literary fiction gets to genre fiction.
Frankly, having seen some of what passes for TV literature programs in the US and UK, I am very glad about our snooty highbrow critics, because stuff like The TV Book Club or Oprah’s Book Club is pretty bad in comparison. The TV Book Club was so bad that even this avowed literature TV program junkie couldn’t watch it. As for Oprah, I’d take Marcel Reich-Ranicki any day over her.
Eric Rosenfield also weighs in on the issue of genre versus literary fiction in a post at Wet Asphalt which may or may not be a reaction to Stephen Hunt’s outrage about a lack of speculative fiction coverage at the BBC.
Marissa Day continues her series about writing sex scenes at the Book View Café.
This weekend, a car crash in Hamburg caused the deaths of sociologist Günther Amendt, actor Dietmar Mues, his wife as well as artist Angela Kurrer. Another actor, Peter Striebeck, and his wife were injured. Dietmar Mues was a well known TV, radio and theater actor in Germany, while Günther Amendt was best known for his studies of teenage sexuality and drug taking, when such subjects were still taboo. There is a sad irony in the fact that the car crash which killed Amendt and the others was caused by a driver who was high on drugs and crashed first into another car and then into a group of people on the sidewalk.
Oddly enough, I first heard about the crash on the radio, while I was stuck in a traffic jam on a highway near Hamburg-Bergedorf on my way home from visiting my aunt at hospital specializing in the treatment of injuries and trauma. It’s strange hearing about a deadly car crash while stuck in a traffic jam, because the first reaction is “Oh my God, did it happen here? Is this why I’m stuck?” As it was, the crash happened in a different part of Hamburg altogether and I was stuck because of construction work.
While on the matter of deaths, there is an eulogy for the station wagon from The Smart Set.
*I for one was utterly surprised at the fallout, because I had always taken the trading of insults and hostilities between Reich-Ranicki and Löffler for a brilliant performance. I had no idea that they really hated each other’s guts.