Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Literature, including Crime Fiction

Yes, we crime fiction writers need to polish and improve our literary output. Most of us work diligently to do this. We try to improve with each word, sentence, chapter, and novel. And despite our best efforts, it’s not going to change the attitudes toward Literature and the “other” genres. We protest this inequity over and over again, because it’s narrow-minded and unfair.

We writers are going to have to change this perspective ourselves, at the publishing and marketing level. I have to confess that I didn’t listen to the entire CBC broadcast, despite Charles’s link. I didn’t get to the part where Enright, who according to Wikipedia didn’t graduate from high school (he was conferred an "Honourary Degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa" at the 98th Spring Convocation of St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), asked Crozier about how she read “bad books” on Sunday. According to Crozier’s on line biography, she teaches writing and has written fourteen books of poetry on subjects such as angels, aging, and Louis Armstrong’s trout sandwich. Hmm…I know nothing about that sandwich. I always loved Louis Armstrong, though.

But I digress. Why didn’t Crozier say, “Peter Robinson does write literature, in fact, his prodigious works have won many awards, including an Edgar, a Hammett, France's Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, Sweden's Martin Beck Award, and the New York Times Notable Book. Michael, you would enjoy his work.”?

Or something to this effect. Crozier’s biography says, “Her reputation as a generous and inspiring artist extends from her passion for the craft of poetry to her teaching and through to her involvement in various social causes.” So why agree with him? Maybe she was a little dazed; I get that way sometimes, especially if I’m agape at an off-putting comment.

But I’m an optimist. (I know, I know, hit me over the head again with this literary brick) We authors need to stick up for each other. When someone mentions the big difference in Literary and Mystery Fiction, do what Vicki did. Bring up the plots of Macbeth, Hamlet, Oedipus Rex, To Kill a Mockingbird, even Edgar Sawtelle . Remind people to read Mystic River, or any of James Lee Burke or William Kent Krueger. Or, heck, any of us on this blog. We’re all working to be better writers, to tell a better, more relevant story.


Rick Blechta said...

Debbie, I'm not Charles! (Not that all of us don't wish we were sometimes because he's so damned affable and urbane.)

And no, Lorna was the person who first brought up the subject of books that she shouldn't read, like Peter Robinson's novels. "I try not to read anything that's good for me, but to read mystery novels without guilt." She goes on to say that she'll read anything by Peter Robinson, but doesn't clarify by saying anything about the quality of his writing, etc. One is left with the idea that Peter's writing is "not what's good for me", to paraphrase our Lorna.

Enright then clarifies what she'd just said by saying, "So let me understand home and you read bad books." Lorna answers, "I run home and I read bad books." It only gets worse after this as she goes on to talk about how she wants to make her Sundays different by reading literature that doesn't expand her brain, literature that she can "talk to her class about." Peter Robinson's works is obviously something she feels is beneath the level of what she's trying to teach these eager young people.

Excuse me, Debby, but this is someone who is really speaking her mind, here. She's not befuddled by being interviewed on the radio by the august Mr. Enright. She's really saying that mystery novels are somehow beneath the lofty heights that real literature reaches — at least in her mind.

There are chortles all around. They're all one big happy club, the literati who know what's good and what is not, who know what is worthwhile and what is not.

Don't cut Lorna any slack here. She stepped in it right and proper. The last thing she needs is one of us making excuses for her.

I hope she and Peter appear together at a literary festival someday.

Vicki Delany said...

I am impressed that Debby went beyond the interview to learn something about the participants. She now knows more than I do about Enright. I never knew he didn't graduate from high school. All that aside, Sunday Edition is an excellent all-around news and cultural affairs show that is on CBC radio on Sunday mornings. (and being CBC radio there are no commercials - not even fundraising breaks). Through the magic of the Internet, you too can listen in.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Oops, Rick, Sorry! I think I was so incensed at the attitudes that my eyes didn't get to the bottom of the page to take in that it was your post. And an excellent one it is. My apologies for not crediting you. And ohmyGod, what a narrow minded, elitist attitude for a writer (as that's how Crozier sees herself) to have. It's hard to imagine that she's actually read Robinson's books.

Rick Blechta said...

I think it's Enright's smug attitude that bothers me the most. He obviously feels very good about himself. Yes, I agree with Vicki that the show is generally quite good, but I just can't get past his delivery. There's a smug fruitiness to it that seems to say, 'Yes, I am very good at this, aren't I? In fact I am the voice of CBC radio'. I've listened to him for many years on this and other shows, and he always makes my skin crawl.

Crozier just comes off as a bit of a dimwit (which she isn't).

They're both off my Christmas list!

Peter was quoted in an infamous cover interview for Quill & Quire, Canada's magazine about publishing. In the interview, he talks about how he's treated (ignored is more like it) in Canada by the literary establishment and the media. The bombshell was when he dropped the F-bomb, saying, "F--- Canada."

You know something? He may well be right...

And you're more than forgiven. It's quite flattering to be mistaken for Charles. He's taller for one thing.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

What is it about writers' own regions ignoring them? I remember talking with Brad Meltzer about how he couldn't get a review in his hometown paper. That was a long time ago, but he was already a best-seller. Me? I totally relate to Rodney Dangerfield!

aliya seen said...

After reading your post. I realized the importance of literature. That's why we are introducing a great site for students. The thesis literature review will enhance your interest in literature.

Jacob Perkins said...

Hello, thank you for writing this article. This is informative and at the same time emotional. For real, not only crime fiction writers have to prove their literacy skills. Moreover, not everyone could become a writer without years of thorough working, practicing and practicing again. Even with years of practice, one can't be sure that he will succeed in literature. The same is with writing novels, poems, APA lit review, scientific articles and so on and so forth. So, the best thing which can be done is getting used to working every day and to proving writing skills, and understanding the critique.