Re: RARA-AVIS: European valuations of genre fiction

From: David Moran (
Date: 01 Feb 2004

I know what you mean. I run a small, independent, intellectually upscale-ish
(i.e. our customers tend more towards the pretentious than the populist) bookstore in NYC myself, and I spend a lot of time arranging and re-arranging my sections and classifications. Within genre fiction, I usually stick stuff that I feel has genuine literary merit in FICTION--e.g. "Motherless Brooklyn,"
"The Friends of Eddie Coyle," and anything by Chandler, Hammett, Goodis, McCoy, Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Ross MacDonald, Jon A. Jackson and Jim Thompson, et al. In MYSTERY, I stick pretty much everything else, and authors that I have read and wouldn't care to sample a second time--anything that even remotely smacks of "airport fiction", David Baldacci, Jeffrey Archer, William Bernhardt, Sara Paretsky, and scores of other anonymous, largely interchangeble mass-market mystery writers of no particular interest to me.

I do agonize quite a bit over a lot of authors that I like (sort of) but remain ambivalent about (e.g. Robert B. Parker) or authors that--gut feeling--I just think will sell better out of the mystery (e.g. Lawrence Block) .

I think it's a format thing. If publishers put mysteries out in trade-paper format, our fiction-section customers will not feel as if they're buying
"genre fiction." We sell lots (well, for us it's a lot) of Patricia Carlton books for example, largely, I think, because Soho Press puts them out in such attractive trade editions; good graphic design, great covers. And I positively KNOW that if the very same books were released in cheaper, pulpier mass market editions (the "less literary" format), that absolutely none of our fiction-section customers would buy them.

Conversely, our mystery-section customers want their books to be in small mass-market format; they don't want anything that looks like it could conceivably have been assigned to them in college.

David Moran

Marianne Macdonald wrote:

> > are there really no distinctions made between genre fiction and
> > literary
> > fiction in Europe?
> The situation is unclear - as the discussions of genre here and on
> similar lists probably make clear. There is a tendency for crime
> writing and sf to be considered as something "different", but there
> is a lot of confusion.
> For example, in the very good local book store and in my local
> library (both 2 blocks from my home, but I'll try not to be
> triumphalist) "Fiction" and "Crime" shelves are separately labelled,
> but there is lots of crime on the fiction shelves. Yesterday I
> bought MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN from the fiction section, and THE FRIENDS
> OF EDDIE COYLE from the crime; in the library, I look in both
> sections if I want a little murder.
> Even the more modern university "English" departments in the UK
> often teach courses in "The Murder Mystery" these days, or include
> crime writers in other literature courses: a very far cry from one of
> the worst days in my life, when I attended the usual oral exam at
> Oxford University for my doctoral thesis only to be told by the
> chief examiner "If you wish to publish this dissertation, do give my
> name as a reference; but this is not the sort of topic for which we
> award Oxford doctorates." (The subject had of course been formally
> accepted; the problem was that I was writing about Ezra Pound, who
> was both American and 20th century, and therefore beyond the pale to
> certain people. Nowadays, of course, you wouldn't let anybody get
> away with this, but I'm talking a while back, she quavered.)
> Marianne Macdonald

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