06 November 2010

Do I read Literary Fiction?

Literary Blog Hop
Yes? No? Maybe? I am putting in my opinion on The Blue Bookcase's Literary Blog Hop.
Please highlight one of your favorite books and why you would consider it "literary."
as several other posts have done, I'm looking at what "literary fiction" means first. A couple people have defined it as NOT books that purely entertain. I do highly disagree. I find Jane Austen's works entertaining. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is entertaining. Wilkie Collins is entertaining. And i am sure that plenty of authors books people would consider the opposite of literary fiction feel they've written something that doesn't purely entertain.

I'd say that literary fiction takes itself seriously. It shows the story as real events and treats the characters as real people, with histories and aspirations and failings. It doesn't matter if the events are fantastical. Tolkien is literary fiction. He's writing about elves and hobbits and dragons and fighting evil but he's also writing about overcoming fears and working hard and friendship and family. Universal themes.

It has to sound right. some writers are just better at the craft. Descriptions are rich without being overdrawn. Dialogue doesn't sound hokey. Stephen King just sounds better that Stephenie Meyer. Of a pair of writers, both of which I've enjoyed, George R.R. Martin sounds better that Mercedes Lackey. He's literary, she isn't, though they are both writing fantasy. YA-wise, Meg Rosoff sounds better than Carrie Ryan or Susan Beth Pfeffer.

Literary fiction isn't cookie cutter, cliched, mass produced fiction. It isn't pink covered chick lit about marriage and babies and shopping. It isn't man-fic where the spy sleeps with 4 girls while averting nuclear war and catching the bad guy after an exciting car chase. It isn't a young adult series preplanned for 18 books based on a tv show with a website tie in that you can enter contests on.

It can be popular. it can be new. it can be genre. it can be wildly entertaining. It just has to be something that doesn't go away once you're done reading it.

Here's a few that have beautiful writing, that have stuck with me:
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist-vampires, love, the dark places inside people, growing up.
  • After Dark by Haruki Murakami- nature of reality, finding yourself.
  • Fledgling by Octavia Butler-more vampires, identity, love.
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman-identity, nature of the world, family.
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley- growing up, family.
  • Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn- more growing up, loss, love, revenge, family.
So there are a few books I've loved that may not fall into every one's definition of literary fiction and the themes they explore. Disagree? let me know! :)

7 comments:

  1. I share your sentiment. Literary fiction can be very entertaining, otherwise I wouldn't go back for more all the time. They just entertain in a lasting fashion, which in effect means they have the power to influence.

    PS: I like Wilkie Collins too!

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  2. I very much agree with your definition, and I'm now following your blog.

    I like Wilkie Collins & Jane Austen, although I find Tolkein a bit of a struggle to get through. I've read a lot of Gaiman but not American Gods, so that's going on to to-read list!

    Sam at Tiny Library

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  3. One person's literary fiction is another person's genre fiction, perhaps. Not everyone is going to agree.

    Here's mine:
    http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2010/11/literary-blog-hop.html

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  4. "Fiction [that] takes itself seriously." I like that definition.

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  5. Thanks for joining us in the hop. I really enjoyed your post -- I felt like it expressed the ambiguities of defining "literary fiction." I've loved reading everyone's input on it!

    "It can be popular. it can be new. it can be genre. it can be wildly entertaining. It just has to be something that doesn't go away once you're done reading it." Well said!

    Hope you've had a great weekend, and we hope to see you soon.

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  6. I am so glad to see you have included speculative in your list. :)

    I loved let the right one in and the sweetness too!

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  7. BBR- I have The Woman in White sitting here just waiting for me to get to it!

    Sam- Hi!

    David, Connie, Shellie- glad you all liked the post.

    readerbuzz- it is such a slippery category isn't it? but it gives us so many great posts to read.

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