Saturday, October 6, 2007

Books -- light and heavy

What makes a mystery "literary?" I started a thread, sort of, by a posting on Dorothy L about the Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay. I love the books and the TV show, and put the writing in the class of novels of Martin Cruz Smith, Thomas H. Cook, and Joanne Harris, all favorites of mine.

Some disagreed, which, of course, makes for a good discussion.

Whether or not you've read Dexter, the question is still an interesting one. Put differently, why do many libraries and bookstores put "mysteries" on one rack, and "fiction" or sometimes "fiction and literature" on another? Aren't mysteries literature? Aren't they "fiction?"

I don't pretend to have a definition of what makes a work literary, just an informal, personal assessment. For me, it's a matter of the writing. I can forgive a lot of faults in plot if the writing moves me.

Not that I don't want a good story and interesting characters, but the books and authors that I remember and keep going back to are those that make me want to stop and reread a phrase or a sentence just for the surprising and pleasurable way the words are on the page.

Someone suggested that literary novels have big themes; in the case of mysteries, then, not just "who dunnit." (In Dexter the theme of good/evil is present in a much deeper way than in my books, for example.)

What do you think? Who are your literary favorites? Or don't you make that distinction?


Deb Baker said...

Camille, Dexter is one of my favorites, too! I haven't seen the show, don't get that channel, but I've heard good things. I worked at our local library. Here's my take. Mystery readers want the category separated out so they don't have to shuffle through stacks of literary fiction to find what they really wanted.

Camille Minichino said...

You bring up a good point that's worth another blog, Deb ... the increasing number of categories within "crime fiction." Do you and I write thrillers? suspense? "No" in terms of the contemporary categories ... yet our books have both in them.

Ellen said...

"Literature" is like nouvelle cuisine - mostly attitude and decoration. But after a while you realize that three stringbeans and an ounce of pork chop, artfully arranged and glazed, do not make a meal.

I suppose that makes genre writing MacDonalds, Burger King, and KFC.

But I ask you, dear friends - which are you going to go back to? It's not going to be the cuisine, because that restaurant went out of business while the burgertorium is still there.

Camille Minichino said...

I think literature is much more than attitude and decoration. It's depth and universality all at once. Like a hot fudge sundae.

ellen said...

I don't want depth and universality. I want a story.

Genre writing always goes for the story first. If it's good genre writing, it has depth and universality too. But I get the feeling (from the litterateurs I know) that an actual *ack ptooey* story is a detriment to literature.

Camille Minichino said...

I think you can have it all .. depth, universality, story.
One good example: Gentlemen and Players, by Joanne Harris.