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The Literary Novel as Genre

I just read an interesting blog post, (which, btw, is more worth reading than my summary of it) describing an almost comical overstatement made in a review of a “literary novel” published in Britain.  The Book, The Opposite House, by Helen Oyeyemi was asserted by this reviewer as being the first book to address the effect that migration could have, not just on migrants, but on their gods (or God) as well.  However, this assertion overlooks a book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman (a book and author which/who I cannot recommend enough), which, six years prior addressed the same idea, and did so in a notable, widely read and critically acclaimed way.  The overall point of the post was that people writing, reading and reviewing “literary novels,” which are here defined as a group of books being published by a small, elite publisher in britain, miss understanding their own works when they dismiss more low-brow writings.  The literary novel became a genre, rather than a group of particularly worthy books within the larger body of works within the greater body of books.

And while this post caught my eye particularly because I have a bias toward hearing people praise Gaiman’s works, it serves as a useful reminder that we (or maybe just me), as English majors, or minors, or as literary elitists occasionally need to pull our heads out of our academias long enough to notice the rest of the world — if only to be able to better, and more completely explain why the thing we read, write and talk about, are so good.  If criticism and high-brow art cannot recognize what else is going on in the literary world, how can they hope to justify their existence, muchless explain their relevance?

This is one place where I must commend the GC English department.  It has been expanding its offerings and including in its intellectual pursuits topics such as Science Fiction and Graphic Novels (comic books, if you aren’t familiar with the more fancy-pants name).  And recently heard rumblings that a Fantasy class may also be in the works (who knows, maybe American Gods could be a text book?)  I think that these classes not only do a great job of bringing additional interest to the English department from students who otherwise might not give English a second glance, but it also does a good job to reground people who have been too long in the more traditional English department classes and have maybe started to lose track of what else gets written.

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