Let's not forget the role that class plays, overtly and covertly, in whether a work is considered "literary" fiction or "mass" fiction. It manifests on a couple of levels:
Class of Readers
Even the terms are telling: "mass" fiction means that the masses are reading it, in other words lots and lots of people, many of whom can't possibly be very discerning or intelligent in their choice of fiction. "Literary" fiction, by implication, attracts a more sophisticated, intelligent, "cultured" readership. But this strand of judgment stretches back in time to economic class, when only the wealthy could afford books and only the wealthy could and would educate their children, which included reading.
Class of Story
Again, this goes back to class of reader. A shoot 'em up, bang ban or bodice ripper romance is not viewed as intellectually stimulating. Mysteries, especially "potboiler series", are just a step above romances with a predominantly female readership, unless they are very convoluted which may attract a larger male readership (male=inherently smarter).
Legal mysteries, however, may appeal to a higher breed of reader and therefore, doesn't seem to carry quite the stigma of other mass fiction genres.
Horror seems to carry a high brow/low brow dichotomy, with Stephen King seeming to sit right on the fence.
Only science fiction seems to deviate away from the class dichotomy but it is also a generational genre that only truly blossomed in the boomer generation. There isn't much of an historical analog for science fiction, despite Jules Verne, but in horror there is: Poe, Hawthorne, Lovecraft, whose works were once considered "mass" fiction but are now seen as classic literature.
My own criteria are: the quality of the story and the quality of the writing. I read for two reasons: for the story and for the writing. Not all books satisfy both, nor do they need to in order for me to buy them. I consume a fair number of "snack books" every year, usually horror novels that aren't terribly gruesome (I'm not much into splatter), are usually a fast, one-time read, and are then recycled. I seldom pre-order them and the authors are usually not ones that I go looking for, or watching for the next book from them. But I've discovered some gems among the snack book pile, and the author usually becomes someone whose work I'll follow, but not necessarily always buy. Then there are my must-read authors, and there aren't a lot: Stephen King, Joe Hill, Dorothy Allison, Bentley Little. It's almost never a gamble to pick up one by them; I already know the quality of their story telling and writing, and the probability that I'll enjoy the book and reread it several times is high.
And not that I'm prejudiced toward Stephen King or anything, but I think "Duma Key" is every bit as much literary fiction as mass fiction (and "The Stand", too). These are books I reread sometimes just for the writing...and the stories ain't bad, either.
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