Monday, July 29, 2013

Quote of the Day: Le Guin On Genre Fiction

"How dare you call me a realist? My book Searoad has nothing to do with the commercial realism found in all the chain bookstores. I call the book 'Social Reality Enhancement.' Realistic novels are for lazy-minded, semi-educated people whose atrophied imagination allows them to appreciate only the most limited and conventional subject-matter. Realistic fiction, or re-fi as its fans call it, is an outworn genre, written by unimaginative hacks who rely on mere mimesis. If they had any self-respect they'd be writing memoir, but they're too lazy to fact-check. Of course I never read re-fi, but my children keep bringing home these garish realistic novels and talking about them, so I know that it's an incredibly narrow genre, completely centered on one species, incredibly culture-bound, full of wornout clich├ęs and predictable situations: the quest for the father, mother-bashing, obsessive lust, suburban guilt, and so forth. All it's good for is being made into mass-market movies. Given its old-fashioned means and limited subject-matter, realism is quite incapable of describing the complexity of contemporary experience."

- from Ursula K. Le Guin's article "Genre: A Word Only a Frenchman Could Love" in Public Libraries, Vol. 44 Issue 1 (PDF)


  1. I actually don't like this quote, even though Le Guin is clearly an underrated genius. All fiction (and all writing), in my eyes, has the potential to be transformative, innovation, and intelligent. Sci-fi has traditionally gotten a bad rap, and that's wrong, but it isn't any better to assign negative stereotypes to realism and its readers. Quality of writing and readers is variable across genres, and is rather specific to books. After all, isn't Twilight fantasy and yet full of these tired tropes, and some of the greatest, most insightful fiction ever written about everymen?

  2. I agree. Even better: so does Le Guin! That paragraph was written as a satire of the treatment SF gets from those who snub such works (and their readers) across the board. Le Guin's main point throughout the article is that genre-thinking can get in the way of discovering and enjoying great books. She wasn't really disparaging realistic fiction.

    I highly recommend clicking the "(PDF)" link at the bottom of the post and checking it out. Her article starts on page 23 of the PDF document, which was page 21 of the issue. Thank you for commenting, Lizzi.

  3. Hmm, I guess that just desserts for reading an out of context quote rather than the real thing :)