At its heart, lasagna is a simple dish in concept. But if you have a version you love -- your grandma's or uncle's, favorite checked-tablecloth joint's, even favorite freezer box's -- you can taste the differences. Subtleties come alive in the taster's experience, appreciable, even if not specifically definable. Crime stories across all subgenres (heck genre fiction in general) get castigated for being "formulaic." But many of us fans view each subgenre as a beloved basic recipe, one that invites endless tinkering among aficionados.Read the whole thing. Toohey offers a number of worthwhile observations, such as how good genre tales need strong, recognizable structures; that many so-called "transcendent" entries in a genre miss the very elements that delight its fans; and that a goodly number of critics don't know enough about popular fiction to recognize the difference. These points have merits. But I'd argue Toohey has missed something salient: Literary fiction (the category to which most of these transcendent titles really belong) is itself a genre. In passing out left-handed compliments, tastemakers are really revealing their own their own preferences.
That's why "transcending lasagna" is how I think of the persistently irritating tendency of non-genre readers and writers to bestow “It transcends genre!” as a compliment.
I've actually come to think of that phrase as a Big. Red. Flag.
(Picture: CC 2011 by gingero.us)