While I appreciated the favorable attention, I was mildly bemused by that opening. And exactly why _isn't_ it either Art or Literature? I wondered. The reviewer didn't trouble explaining, evidently feeling that her apparent enjoyment of the book made that plain (everyone knows you _appreciate_ Art, you don't _enjoy_ it, for gosh-sakes! I mentioned this particular review to someone at my publishing house--whose pragmatic response was, "Thank God they didn't call it Art or Literature; we'd have been lucky to sell 5,000.").
Now and again, I get further reviews that make it clear that what I'm writing can't possibly be either Art or Literature, because it is "genre fiction,"--this, contrasted with the occasional oddball critic who insists that the books _are_ Literature (nobody seems willing to go out on a limb and call them Art yet; just as well; I have kids to put through college), because I have managed to squeeze every possible known genre (except Westerns (give me time)) into one book--therefore it can't be genre fiction anymore. (Well, critics have to make a living too.)
Interestingly enough, most of the reviews and public comments that make an issue of whether these books (or any others) are Literature or Genre Fiction (an artificial distinction, if I ever heard one) base the distinction largely on grounds of sex.
If I read my NYT Review of Books aright, you cannot have sex in Literature unless it's violent, abusive, obsessive or warped (if such a word is possible in conjunction with such a…er...'plastic' activity). If you have anything approaching a depiction of pleasurable or entertaining sex, or a relationship in which the characters appear to be having a good time or otherwise benfiting themselves, then obviously you have descended to "genre fiction." (Actually "genre fiction" essentially just means you have a recognizable plot, coupled with a theme of universal appeal. Sex, of course, is pretty universally appealing.).
Now, I get mail. I get _lots_ of mail (and not infrequently, I think I should have had my head examined before I put my email address in my latest book).
Not a few of the letters and messages I get deal with the sexual relationships described in my books. A few correspondents (four, by the latest count) feel that I should not depict the details of sexual encounter, because (and I quote) "Great works of Literature don't have graphic sex." Their (otherwise quite gratifying opinion) is that my books otherwise have merits which would qualify them as Great Literature, were it not that I had lowered the tone of the proceedings by observing that people have genitalia (in vain do I protest that it's difficult to get a Ph.D. in biology without noticing this. They think I should in all decency have kept it to myself).
Of course, we must balance this with the (roughly) 3,000 correspondents who wrote to request _more_ sex in subsequent books, but most of them weren't concerned with my literary reputation.
Frankly, neither am I. We'll just wait a hundred years and _see_ if it's Literature, won't we?
Still, whether you want to put this "Real Lit does not have Real Sex" notion down to lingering puritanism, high-school brainwashing (MOBY DICK does not have explicit sex; ergo Real Literature does not include prurient passages. Obviously, these people were not paying attention when Melville explained why sperm whales are called that), or the ignorant conviction (born of inexperience) that all printed depictions of sexuality must be pornography, the notion does exist.
You know FANNY HILL, I expect? Subtitled "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure," it's one of the most enduring bits of Western European "literary" pornography, having been published in 1747. What's literary pornography? Well, interestingly enough, while the difference between most present-day "Literature" and the less-esteemed "genre fiction" is that the latter has a recognizable plot and universal themes, the difference between literary pornography and its less-esteemed relation, "porn," is that the _former_ has a decent plot and universal themes.
FANNY HILL caused a certain amount of comment following its publication--evidently times change, but literary critics don't. Among these, however, was a mention in a
"Yet it does not appear to us that this book has anything in it more offensive to decency or delicacy of sentiment and expression, than our novels and books of entertainment in general have. For in truth they are most of them (especially our comedies, and not a few of our tragedies) but too faulty in this respect."
These remarks were published in 1750. FANNY HILL is still in print, having survived the entire Victorian Age and the neo-puritanism of the mid-20th century, as well. This doesn't suggest to me that the inclusion of sex _per se_ negatively affects either the enduring popularity or the literary quality of any book.
Next time...Why People Have Sex, and How to Make That Clear when you Write about It.