Some of you mentioned here how frustrating it can be to have your reading choices questioned or criticized because of other readers’ reading prejudices. You know those readers, the ones who say “Fantasy stories? I grew out of those” or “Mysteries? I’ve never read one”. Yup, those readers.

Here’s a terrific quote from Walter Mosley that takes on this question. In Off the Page, Writers Talk about Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between (Ed. Carole Burns, Norton, 2008), he writes:

“In one way, you could see a difference between genre fiction and “literary fiction”. But really there’s an umbrella called “literary quality”. Everything that falls beneath that umbrella is literary fiction. And those books that do not are not. But a book that falls under the umbrella of literary quality could be a “literary” book, or science fiction, or romance, or thriller. Because what defines literary quality is the quality of the writing, not the subject, not the genre, and not even the author.”

He elaborates by drawing an example from his own works of literary quality:

“The best thing politically I like about the mystery genre is that if you write a book about a Chicano farmworker in central California and his trials and tribulations, the only people who read it are people who are that or who are interested in that world. But if a person is murdered on that farm, and you have a Chicano detective coming into that world and describing that world in order to solve the crime, then you have a much broader audience willing to find out about that world because of the genre. It’s one reason why I keep doing it.”

I’ve never read anything of his, but I’ve picked them up several times and would be more likely to actually bring one home with me the next time. Is there one of his books that you would recommend? Meantime I am reading another mystery of literary quality and I’m holding my head high when I’m asked about the book I’m carrying with me on these hot and humid commutes.

What do you think of Walter Mosley’s umbrella theory?