Le Guin on genre, again

Ursula Le Guin, aside from being a great writer, has the knack of being on the right side in any debate going. Currently, she’s doing sterling work defending genre fiction against put-downs. That is, not so much trying to break out of the ghetto, as taking pride in it.

It really got going in a tussle with Margaret Atwood over the definitions of Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, and Literary Fiction. Atwood, official Great Treasure of Canadian Literature, has built a career on writing SF that is presented as literary fiction. Le Guin has accepted her position in the genre ghetto, and won critical acceptance in spite of that.

Now, along comes a New Yorker article, beating on genre with a series of backhanded compliments:

Commercial and genre writers aim at delivering less rarefied pleasures. And part of the pleasure we derive from them is the knowledge that we could be reading something better. For the longest time, there was little ambiguity between literary fiction and genre fiction: one was good for you, one simply tasted good.

…Skilled genre writers know that a certain level of artificiality must prevail. It’s plot we want and plenty of it. Basically, a guilty pleasure is a fix in the form of a story.

In wades Le Guin, beautifully calling Mr. New Yorker on his apparent belief that Great Fiction just isn’t fun:

Anybody who reads a lot is, if you like, an addict. The people who put their initials on the fly-leaf of a library copy of a mystery so that they won’t keep checking the same book out over and over are story addicts. So is the ten-year-old with his nose in The Hobbit, oblivious to dinnertime or cataclysm. So is the old woman rereading War and Peace for the eighth time. So is the scholar who studies the Odyssey for forty years.

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