The Dismissal of Genre: The Case of Crime

As a reader, you start to see a hierarchy of genre forming in different sections of the community. For so-called ‘highbrow’ readers, things like classical literature and Man Booker prize winners are placed on a pedestal whereas things like YA may be shunted down into the depths of untouchable works. For Booktube and BookTok groups like high fantasy and contemporary novels are given a special place for ‘elite’ readers. 

But one genre I always feel gets left behind is crime. 

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I remember sitting in a lecture about this division of what is seen as ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ literature and crime coming into the equation. As a genre, crime can sometimes be seen as distinctly non-literary. It has a veneer of sensationalism and a reputation for only being targeted at bored housewives that perhaps tarnishes its ability to be taken seriously in a literary context. 

But firstly, who gets to decide whether or not something can be seen as trashy and not worth the time of being considered as literature? One of the most novel and exciting things about literature is that it will always be subjective. There is no such thing as a standard measure of whether a book is good or not. However, I think the association between crime and pop culture has meant the genre as a whole has been largely binned by critics. 

This is baffling to me when I remember reading crime novels and being incredibly impressed by how vivid and convincing the worlds in them became. As a younger reader, I wasn’t looking for literary devices or talking points but as an older reader I can reflect on the fact that a lot of those books had merit. Of course some books are trashy, but every genre has books that aren’t perfect. 

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Arthur Conan Doyle is perhaps the only crime writer that I can think of that is given any critical platform, and this is perhaps only because Sherlock Holmes has been given this classic status. Even then, I think academia is weary of studying these novels because of his pop culture influence. Stuffy academia often sees itself at war with the politics of prime time TV adaptations and fandoms. 

I would love to see crime taking the stage as a genre that can be read seriously and not be painted with the same heavy-handed brush that has also tarnished other genres like YA. We cannot write off whole genres because of their readership, singular bad novels, or societal perceptions of them. 

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