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“Well, it’s a genre novel, so….”

January 19, 2009

Over the past few days, I’ve heard some version of the phrase above more than a couple of times from writer friends whose work and opinions I respect, and the phrase carries with it the sense of some small and slightly dismissive shake of the head, indicating lowered expectations or a means of excusing poor craftsmanship. It’s an old, old debate — literary versus genre — and at times even I find myself weary of rallying to the defense of crime writing. 

But on the heels of those recent conversations, I was pleased to be pointed toward a new list from The Guardian, a compendium of crime novels to add to that publication’s list of “1000 novels everyone must read.”

In addition to being a great checklist of novels you may have missed — I’ve got a lot of catching up to do myself here — the article also comes with an implicit tearing down of the distinctions too many readers put between so-called high literature and low. On the list (presented alphabetically by author and separated into three web pages), you’ll see James M. Cain’s potboilers  listed beside a novel by two-time Booker Prize-winner Peter Carey; one of Richard Condon’s political thrillers arrives just ahead of two books by Joseph Conrad; Dostoyevsky and Dreiser come on the heels of Colin Dexter; William Faulkner stands beside Ian Fleming; Stephen King appears alongside Rudyard Kipling; Elmore Leonard shows up between Harper Lee and Jonathan Lethem; and smack-dab between Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and postmodern master Thomas Pynchon, you’ve got Sara Paretsky, George Pelecanos and Richard Price. 

In short, not just an entertaining, but an edifying list.

Links to each part of the article are below (and don’t miss sidebar spotlights on other authors):

And at the risk of redundancy, another tip of the hat here to Mr. Poe in this regard — celebrating his 200th today.

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One comment

  1. Great piece, Art. I like it when people point out that classics like Hamlet, Crime and Punishment, Les Miserables, etc., are in effect works of “genre” fiction.



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