What should we look for in fiction? Are the "best" books those which are deemed to be "literary"? There seems to be an assumption about some critics - and readers - that genre fiction is always of a lower order, written cynically or obediently by lesser artists who lack the vision, originality or courage of the True Writer. Sara Sheridan (above) raises this issue in relation to the forthcoming Edinburgh Festival, and the BBC has been accused of similar snobbishness.
Writing in the Guardian, Sheridan says:
"I live in a City of Literature, but I worry about that title. I think I'd rather live in a City of Words. Literature, to me, isn't necessarily a good thing – it's exclusive, for a start. It doesn't sell to ordinary people in mass-market locations. It tells people what they ought to want to read, rather than simply grabbing readers by the imagination (which to me, has always been a writer's job, whether they are literary or not)."
Very true. This insistence on a literary pecking order is the result of muddled thinking. The divisions between literary and genre fiction have not been made by writers, but by publishers and booksellers. In fact, literary fiction is itself a genre, which came into being in the late 1960s when the Booker Prize was conceived to promote "serious" writing. What matters is that writers write good books, not where they are situated in Waterstones, or the minds of critics.