26 September 2009

Hybrid Books and the Marketplace of Literary Respectability

I previously mentioned the "Best of the Millennium (So Far)" list at The Millions, and Andrew Seal posted some ruminations on why the results were what they were. In the comments to his post, there's some interesting discussion, well worth reading, but one paragraph of Seal's original remarks does not seem, so far, to have been discussed, and I think it's among the most interesting of his observations, so I'm posting it here to see if anybody wants to say anything. I haven't thought too much about it, so am not proposing agreement or disagreement, just that I think it's an interesting observation about how the value of fiction is constructed in the U.S. especially (since most of the panelists are U.S.-based):
The writer-heaviness [of the panelists] also, I think, accounts for why so many of the works included are of the hybrid variety—"literary fiction" that cleverly incorporate genre (SFF, thriller) elements—while there are so few (actually none) books which are actually categorized as genre fiction. Writers who practice this boundary-crossing (while keeping a strong "literary fiction" audience) are simply the most empowering models for aspirant writers: an ambitious young writer would be a fool not to like them. These hybrid books suggest the extent of a writer's powers (crossing or playing with genre boundaries is assumed to be a proof of the writer's talent and imagination) while also instructing on how to rein that power in before falling all the way into genre. "You can play with reality," these books say, "and if you do it like me, you can still be shelved in a respectable location in Barnes and Noble."