An Outsider’s Perspective on American Literature’s Love Affair with Genre Fiction

I discovered early on that in the Netherlands, we have no tradition of the fantastic in literature. All the cool books in the bookstore, the ones I wanted to get my hands on when I was a kid, were translations. I didn’t care; I devoured them anyway. But then in high school, we were forced to read the Dutch classics, and then I discovered that not only did we lack a tradition of the fantastic in literature, we also lacked a tradition of books where stuff actually happens.

One of Holland’s most celebrated classical novels is De Avonden (The Evenings) by Gerard Reve. It’s a book about nothing. It celebrates nothingness. And it’s not a fun book about nothingness. It’s a serious book about nothingness. One can appreciate its literary merits when you’re in your thirties or forties, but force a fifteen-year-old kid to read that book, and ...