Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A blog from the airport

Hello friends! I've made it home to sunny Cairns and I've already got sunburn!! I was not made for living in the tropics, no wonder I'm heading to wintery Japan for the summer!! Here is an entry I wrote last night as I waited and waited at the airport for my late flight to Cairns, it is a little all over the place but that tends to be the way my mind works!!

As I write this I sit in the Brisbane Airport waiting for my flight to Cairns, and a long wait it'll be since my flight doesn't board for another hour. To kill time I headed into the airport bookstore, a favourite airport past-time of mine.

At uni I encountered students and teachers alike who poo-poo'd what they call 'airport fiction,' and while I agree to an extent, the terrible works of one Matthew Reilley which line airport bookstore shelves comes to mind, I tend to take offence to that label. I have bought several great books from the airport and while they may be over-priced (oh god are they over-priced!) they certainly aren't trash.

Perhaps once upon a time it was all romance and action  sold in these bookstores but that certainly isn't the case anymore- at least not in Australian airports. During my trip into this bookstore I came across the works of Franzen, Bronte, Courteney and Palahniuk. Maybe some of these authors are easier to read that others but all are well respected and attributed with being top level word-smiths. 

This is just another case of the snobbery I've come across in the literary world. Just because a book can be read in one sitting or is sold in an airport bookstore doesn't mean it is of a lesser quality than those sold at independent bookstores. I mean, yes of course these airport bookstores are out to make a profit and for the most part Dostoyevsky isn't top of the list on everyone's reading while flying list, but just because genre fiction is what fills the majority of the shelves doesn't make it of a lesser quality.

As was repeated to me over and over in my classes at uni Literary fiction appeals to perhaps 6% (rough estimate) of book sales- while my classmates took that to mean that they were smarter that 94% of book buyers I took it for what it truly meant, that the literary aspirations of Literary authors is not appealing to a great number of people (regardless of what their IQ is). Generally books that fall into the Literary category make great use of form and technique over plot and even character, they are about manipulating and shaping words to create meaning. One teacher explained it best as genre fiction is designed to drag you into the story and take you deep into it, while literary fiction is about displaying the beauty of words and writing techniques, the former is about emotion and the latter about provoking thought.

Because Literary stories are so aware of their creation they can be hard to read fluidly, regardless of how beautifully stitched together the prose is. This isn't to have a go at Literary fiction, I adore many Literary works and I will also admit to feeling a little smug when I finish a Russian novel and understand it, I am simply sick of people having a go at anything that doesn't fall into this category, of relegating it to a lower caste simply because it doesn't make excessive use of experimental narrative structure or writing techniques.

Of course what I've written has been a bit of a generalisation, there are many Literary novels which dwell on character and plot and several genre works which are highly experimental in their writing methods. It doesn't really matter though, writing is supposed to incite thought and emotion, to drag you into other worlds and teach you meaningful lessons. Books are not here to make you feel superior or to wear as a badge of success as you read on public transport. It doesn't matter if you're reading Austen, Dickens or Homer it does not make you better than the people who choose to read science fiction or romance (well....JK). By all means bond with someone on public transport because of what they are reading but don't use it as a measure of a person's character.

This is one of my biggest literary pet peeves so I'm glad I had some time at the airport to vent out my frustrations to you all!! Bottom line I guess is don't judge a book by it's genre!


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