Literary Fiction

friedag

What do you think of literary fiction?


I will leave the definition of LF to the individual reader. It can be looked up at many sites on the Internet. Whether you agree with the consensus opinion that literary fiction is superior to all other forms of fiction or whether it is just another subgenre of fiction -- one of many and not necessarily superior -- is what I am curious about.


I realize it all could be just a matter of taste and opinion. But, if so, why is it often considered due extra reverence, even by readers who might not really like or enjoy it?


Examples of LF compared to other fiction would be greatly appreciated!

SaveComment55Like
Comments (55)
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
yoyobon_gw

My humble opinion: If I enjoy a book , I enjoy it and don't care whether it is genre or literary. I would never select or reject a book based on which category it falls into.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Yoyo, do you have preferences in fiction, though? Categories of styles in fiction to which you tend to gravitate?

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
yoyobon_gw

I don't like science fiction at all, though I enjoy a good fantasy ( Harry Potter, Golem & Jinni ) and I dislike gory murder or violence .

I enjoy historical fiction when well written and as I said, any other book that is a good read regardless of category.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn_ky

I suspect I'm not very "literary." I just like to be told a ripping good story, but I do enjoy good writing. Kentucky author Janice Holt Giles' early books are some of my favorites; but in her later ones, while she continued to write beautifully, she forgot to tell a story. She has characters, but you don't get to know them and you really don't care.

As I'm sure all of you know, mysteries are my favorites; but I dislike horror, gratuitous violence, or a surfeit of bad language. That said, I really like James Lee Burke, and his books have some of all of that. His writing, though, is lyrical; and he does tell a story. I dislike cutesy writing, trying too hard to be funny writing, and disappointing endings.

I don't like science fiction either, Yoyo. My best friend from high school days and valedictorian of our class, loves it and doesn't like mysteries. Go figure.

1 Like Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Carolyn, I have read some literary fiction that made me wonder if there really was a story among all the words the authors used.

What makes, say, Virginia Woolf's novels literary and Daphne du Maurier's not? My best guess is D du M wrote stories with plots and Woolf wrote character studies in a stream-of-consciousness style. I can't really say, though, about Woolf's books because I only finished a couple of them. I usually didn't see much point to them and I would lose interest. Apparently that makes me a philistine. :-(

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vee_new

I often think a give-away when first starting a book as to its literary-ness is the setting and characters. How often is something set in a Senior Common Room of a top university, or about a group of people who are writers, or work for a publishing firm or maybe in some 'high up' job in a TV studio? While it makes sense to write about something with which you are familiar so many modern authors seem to have had little experience of the 'real world'.

Not so long ago the poet T S Eliot was lauded from the rooftops (possibly he still is) Everyone who was anyone had to have read The Wasteland and once read none of those readers dared admit to understanding very little of the content. The same with the navel-gazers of much literary fiction.

Me, I enjoy my fiction to be just that; 'enjoyable'. I want complete sentences, rounded characters, a believable plot and a setting that at least 'makes sense'.

Probably this is why I don't enjoy fantasy, sloppy romances, futuristic stuff and endless murders cleverly solved by maiden aunts between Matins on the first Sunday and Evensong by the second.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

All right, we have made a start. Perhaps now it would be appropriate to ask some of the following questions I have gathered from various sources.

What are the topics literary fiction books usually dwell on? The plight of the human condition seems to be the one most often mentioned. It is mostly dark, seldom happy. The alternate title for literary fiction is 'serious fiction'.

What are other prominent features? I will list some on which many readers, critics, and scholars agree.

It has literary merit. (But what exactly is literary merit? It seems subjective to me.)

The vocabulary is more varied and sophisticated. The sentences are complex in construction (having many more subordinate clauses, more elaborate punctuation or, in contradiction, a lot less punctuation).

The pacing is slower, more thoughtful.

Literary fiction has an agenda: to enlighten readers in social, political, and moral situations.

LF is iconoclastic.

It is introspective.

The settings are often indoors or in constrained spaces.

The style is creative, innovative, and experimental for the sake of experimentation.

That's probably enough, for now. It's all a bit overwhelming for me. How many do you agree on or disagree? I'm sure we could find many exceptions to any (or all) of these.



Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Rosefolly

I rarely enjoy literary fiction. I want Story.

I want more than story of course, skilled use of language, interesting pacing, well-drawn characters, interesting insights, emotional engagement, even an opinion offered on life or society. But on the whole, literary fiction bores me to tears.


My favorite genre is science fiction and fantasy (no surprise there), but I also read mysteries, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction, provided it is not too formulaic. I outgrew romance decades ago once I figured out how real life relationships actually work. These days I enjoy having a romance included in a story, but there has got to be a whole lot more than that going on to hold my interest.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sheri_z6

Frieda, I like your definition of literary fiction, particularly the phrase, "mostly dark, seldom happy."

Like Vee and Yoyobon, I like a book that tells a good story, has characters you can relate to and root for, and isn't over the top with misery, violence, or family dysfunction. Most of my "literary fiction" reading comes via my book group, and some of it has been depressing or just difficult to get through. I suspect a lot of novels that become book group darlings are either literary fiction, or literary fiction wanna-bes.

I am more of a fantasy, sci-fi, and romance novel fan, and I do like the occasional mystery, too. But sometimes (particularly in the romance area) I feel like I've had too much candy and could use more vegetables. Then a well-plotted, well-written, more challenging and literary book is a pleasure (e.g., Circe by Madeline Miller).

As for literary merit ... would that fall into a "I know it when I read it" category?

One of my recent favorite books is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Would you classify that as literary fiction? Or just a good story well told?

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Rosefolly

I would describe A Gentleman in Moscow and Circe both as "a good story well told", and I loved them both.

Neither one is dreary enough to count as literary fiction.

2 Likes Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

As for literary merit ... would that fall into a "I know it when I read it" category?

Sheri, what great insight! I imagine that is so. It's like knowing pornography when you see it.

A Gentleman in Moscow, to me, is "a good story well told", but I could accept that it has literary elements (slower pacing, mostly happens indoors, primarily character-driven, etc.)

I haven't read Circe, but one of the definitions of LF says it often alludes to -- or is based on -- earlier literature, so it qualifies in that respect, as far as I know.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
yoyobon_gw

Knowing pornography when you see it .....much ado about very little ?

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

...much ado about very little ?

Yoyo, I am glad you expanded on your comment to include Knowing pornography when you see it .. When I first read it without the expansion, I thought you were adding to the description of Literary Fiction. It makes sense -- at least to me -- if you were. ;-)

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
yoyobon_gw

In both cases it's probably much ado about very little !

1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn_ky

What about Of Human Bondage, Lord Jim, World Enough and Time? I was really glad when those book were over. I really liked A Gentleman in Moscow.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Carolyn, I am guessing that you mean Robert Penn Warren's World Enough and Time, his novel about the Kentucky lawyer. Several writers have used the first line of Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress" as a title for their own books, but for this discussion I think Penn Warren's work is the most pertinent. Am I right?

All the King's Men is the only work of his I've read. That was enough for me!

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

I laughed when I read that Literary Fiction is not written for readers who love storytelling (ordinary readers). We were just talking about that! Apparently it is written with aims to impress critics and a 'mutual admiration society' of other writers, academicians, and award-givers. I have suspected as much as there has always seemed, to me, to be something smug and pretentious about it.

What about those writers who unexpectedly find themselves lauded as the "newest gift to the literati"? Some probably are initially flabbergasted and never quite believe it (the more humble of them), but some will convince themselves eventually that maybe they are that great! Or so they would like to believe.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vee_new

Regarding literary prizes, thinking 'The Booker', gives the best eg of literary work. Martin here at RP, who posts a list of candidates for the award . .. and then actually reads all the books, deserves a medal himself. It has led me to read a couple but I think the only one I both enjoyed and understood was Hilary Mantel's Woolf Hall.

And 'humble' isn't a word I would associate with authors! To sit down and write a book, then find a publisher, editor, agent and so on must take more than a 'humble' person could deal with. I'm sure if I sent a manuscript to more than a couple of publishers and had it rejected I wouldn't have the confidence to carry on and I'd meekly go back to my day job of being a filing clerk, tea-stirrer's mate on a construction site or the humblest job of all, an everyday housewife.

1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vee_new

yoyo, re pornography and much ado about very little . . . we don't want to tie ourselves into knots over it. Do we?

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Vee, I'm with you regarding the Booker Prize winners -- and most of the literary award winners, those shortlisted and those longlisted. I liked Woolf Hall very much, although it too had a few style gimmicks that annoyed me, at first. I can't remember now what they were . . . did Mantel use the present tense? If so, I've never been especially fond of that 'trick'. It seems that many literary writers caught that bug for a while, but maybe they've got over it more recently.

I've marveled at Martin's stamina. I don't have the patience and tolerance to read so much of the same sort of fiction, although it is vaunted for its creativity.

True, writers can't always afford to be humble. Chutzpah -- in the positive sense -- is often needed.

Have you liked other fiction writers and their books that might qualify for the literary designation?

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
yoyobon_gw

Vee.......I guess I'm an "ordinary reader" . Literary fiction is wasted on me !

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sheri_z6

I've marveled at Martin's stamina. I don't have the patience and
tolerance to read so much of the same sort of fiction, although it is
vaunted for its creativity.

Martin is my reading hero. I could not get through many of those books. When he posts the long list I always try to read at least one, but I confess more often than not it goes back to the library or into the "donate" box unfinished.

My book group has read three of the short-listed Bookers over the years:

ROOM by Emma Donohue. I still wish I could scrub that one out of my memory, I found it really disturbing.

How to Be Both by Ali Smith. I LOVED this book, mainly because of its clever construction and the real art it was based upon. Unfortunately, I found her next short listed novel, Autumn, far less engaging and even though I read it, I have no idea what the point of it was (which shows a lack on my part, I'm sure).

The Overstory by Richard Powers. This one went on far too long, was full of unhappy characters, and was generally depressing while still being beautifully written with breathtakingly stunning turns of phrase. Was it worth the slog? I'm teetering toward yes, but it's more of a maybe.

So overall, mixed reviews. I can say each of the above required effort to get through, while most of what I usually read is more accessible and I can just dive into the story.

We will be reading Lincoln at the Bardo later in the year, and I'm not looking forward to it.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woodnymph2_gw

Vee regarding the work of publication, etc. many writers who have the money to do so self-publish.

I guess I am not a fan of literary fiction. I could not get through "How to be Both". The few I could finish on Martin's lists included "On Chesil Beach."

I wonder where a writer such as the late E.G. Sebold would fit in. I recall being almost the only one who enjoyed his unusual books when we discussed them here.

For whatever it's worth, I do enjoy the poetry of T.S. Eliot and have no problem interpreting his work, usually.

To be more clear: I know what I like: a good story, well told, with beautiful language. I have no patience for science fiction, in general, nor magical realism.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn_ky

Freda, yes, the title for the Warren book is from Marvell's poem. And All the King's Men is a romp compared to it. It was made into a movie that was pretty good.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Okay, here's a list from Wikipedia of authors who are considered Literary. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but it has a lot of recognizable names. Even I have read some of their novels. How about you? Are there some you have particularly enjoyed -- or hated?

(Sorry it is so long. I couldn't get it to print in columns.)

Chinua Achebe

Kingsley Amis
Martin Amis
Margaret Atwood
Saul Bellow
Paul Bowles
Willa Cather
John Cheever

J. M. Coetzee
Pat Conroy
Anthony Doerr
Louise Erdrich
Jeffrey Eugenides
J. G. Farrell
William Faulkner
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Penelope Fitzgerald
John Fowles
Jonathan Franzen
Nadine Gordimer
Ernest Hemingway
Oscar Hijuelos
John Irving
Kazuo Ishiguro
James Joyce
Barbara Kingsolver
Milos Kundera
D. H. Lawrence
Doris Lessing
David Lodge
Malcolm Lowry
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Cormac McCarthy
Ian McEwan
Norman Mailer
Henry Miller

Rohinton Mistry
Toni Morrison
Haruki Murakami
Vladimir Nabokov
V. S. Naipaul

Michael Ondaatje
George Orwell
Walker Percy
Thomas Pynchon
Philip Roth
Arundhati Roy
Salman Rushdie
J. D. Salinger
Jose Saramago

W. G. Sebald

Vikram Seth

Ali Smith

Zadie Smith
Muriel Spark
William Styron
Amor Towles
Anne Tyler
John Updike
Kurt Vonnegut
Alice Walker
Robert Penn Warren
Jeanette Winterson
Thomas Wolfe
Tom Wolfe (not the same person as Thomas Wolfe)

Virginia Woolf
Banana Yoshimoto
Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Nineteenth-century and earlier novelists are not included. I suppose, from the definitions I've read, the obsession of slotting fiction into genres didn't take firm hold until the twentieth century.


1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sableincal

Looking over that list it seems that I love literary fiction. I've read 17 of the writers, and must insist that Bernard Malamud - The Fixer, The Chosen, A New Life and many short stories - be included. Also Wallace Stegner, for Angle of Repose, which I think could be considered one of America's great novels. Where is Joyce Carol Oates? Is she too prolific? Her novel Blonde, about the interior life of Marilyn Monroe, is another American masterpiece (IMO). What about Joan Didion? Didion is a prose master, with very long sentences in which everything parses and the punctuation is perfect!

On the list, I have especially loved Lessing, D.H. Lawrence, Mailer, and Hemingway, but Mailer probably more for his non-fiction.

When I was nineteen I went overseas for the first time, to live in Israel. At that time, the U.S. still practiced the banning of books, especially Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence. Within a few days of getting settled in Jerusalem I found a large multi-language bookstore. I located Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. These books had been popular topics of conversation in my English lit classes at university, with everyone speculating what they might be like. So I bought them. As I was paying, the clerk/book-man said to me, "You are an American, right? Finally going to read the forbidden fruit?" I think I blushed.

2 Likes Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn_ky

I like most all of William Faulkner, A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark but not Jean Brodie, the early books of Barbara Kingsolver (the funny ones), Pat Conroy's writing but not his dysfunctional family history, and Amor Towles. I only read one book by Toni Morrison (Beloved) and and hated it. I also do not like (heresy) Margaret Atwood.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Rosefolly

I like some of Anne Tyler very much, and I like Amor Towles. I've read about a dozen other books by writers on that list, and in most cases did not enjoy the experience much.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Carolyn, I've always felt I was missing something when I have tried to read Faulkner, but I haven't figured out what it is. For instance, I was agog to read his famous Very Long Sentence in Absalom, Absalom! (all 1,288 words of it), but I never could maintain an interest in the dysfunctions of the Sutpens. Same with the other piled-up problems of the characters in Faulkner's other books I've tried. The only one of his novels I actually enjoyed reading is The Reivers, which critics dismiss as "not being incomprehensible enough"! There's not enough onion peeling in it, structure-wise, apparently. What do you think is the secret to the appeal of Faulkner?

I have complained about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie so many times I have lost count. I really do think the movie adaptation (with Maggie Smith's portrayal of Miss Brodie) is better than the book. Spark-ites think that is heresy.

I'm actually surprised that I have read and enjoyed a fairly good number of the literary writers.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vee_new

Re the list above of lit. fiction. I have read only a few of the authors and wonder if it is because so many names are American? I know I have come to know more US writers since I've been at RP and enjoyed much of their work but do find some of it difficult.

Sable and I will have to differ over DH Lawrence. When his stuff became popular after the famous Lady C trial (where the judge asked the jury "Would you let your wife and your servants read this?") I tried a couple of his books and found them so long winded and boring . . .

I see James Joyce is on the list and I remember some while ago several RP'ers claiming to have read/understood/enjoyed Ulysses. I haven't tried and I think the nuns from my long-ago schools days would have an attack of the vapours if they thought I had, but I found an interesting and amusing youtube thing about how to get the most out of the book.



Ulysses


Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Vee, I like that video about reading Ulysses! I have managed only bits and pieces of it.

I get the feeling Australian writers have been slighted in the lists of literary accomplishments. Surely some of them qualify. Which ones? Peter Carey comes to my mind, although I probably haven't read enough of his work to judge it.

Perhaps I just don't recognize which writers are Australians.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Rosefolly

Thanks, Vee. I enjoyed the YouTube overview (and the ad for the poetry master class that came with it), not that it made me any more likely to ever read it. But at least I finally figured out why people praise it. Sort of.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woodnymph2_gw

Looking over the list, I found I have read no less than 31 of the authors presented, so I guess I am a fan of literary fiction. I must agree with Vee in that I found Lawrence's "Lady Chatterly's Lover" boring and poorly written. On the other hand, I agree with Sable that Wallace Stegner should not have been omitted: I really found his "Angle of Repose" to be an American classic.

I'm not a fan of Pat Conroy's fiction although I live in SC. Frieda, you and I must part ways in that I adored "Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."

Where on the list is the author of "I Capture the Castle"?

1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Woodnymph, I don't think we have to part ways over The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. :-) I like it. I just don't love it. I have two main reasons for this (that I remember):

  1. Spark had a habit while telling the story of Miss Brodie's influence on her pupils of jumping forward in time to tell what Sandy Stranger's life was like years after "the betrayal". When I read other books by Spark, I saw that this was one of Spark's favorite techniques of foreshadowing -- jumping forward out of the frame of the main story. I think she used it too often, so that it was diluted and no longer particularly effective, creative or innovative.
  2. Spark had too many characters (Miss Brodie's pupils) to make all of them adequately memorable. In the film adaptation, some of the girl characters were conflated -- I think to the benefit of readers'/watchers' understanding of them.

We might disagree on these points, but I don't think we disagree on the whole book.:-)

As for Dodie Smith: I figure she will never be seen as literary because her books are too lighthearted. She makes fun of literary pretensions (think of Mortmain's Jacob Wrestling, his writer's block, and finally his inspiration for writing a book that starts with a child learning to read: The cat sat. The cat sat on a mat . . . Shades of James Joyce, right?) But there are all those allusions to what were the going things in literature in the 1930s (the time setting of I Capture the Castle). Delicious! That's my opinion, but I doubt those serious arbiters of literature would think so.

1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
astrokath

Frieda, J Coetzee lives in Australia (in fact here in Adelaide) and is now an Australian citizen.

For homegrown writers, Carey is certainly a contender, having won two Bookers, although he is now a US citizen apparently. I have only tried two of his books, and I enjoyed one (The True History of the Kelly Gang) and couldn't finish the other (Oscar and Lucinda).

Tim Winton is the other Aussie who comes to mind. His book Cloudstreet, which I found too boring to finish, is usually in all the 'favourite book' lists here.

Others are Richard Flanagan and Patrick White. I haven't read their work but I think they come into the 'dense and hard to read' category :)

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn_ky

Frieda, I discovered Faulkner when I went back to college evening classes as an adult student. Like you, I found The Reivers delightful and think the criticism of incomprehensible to be . . . incomprehensible. To me, it is much easier to understand that most of his books. Have you read any of his Snopes family books? They are wickedly funny.

The book assigned for study in two different lit classes I took was As I Lay Dying, which is not one I like. One of the teachers kept on at trying to decide what the family had meant when they named one son Darl. She decided it was meant to be short for darling, but she surely didn't grow up in rural Kentucky. I'm convinced it was the country pronunciation of Darrell.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Carolyn, I have come to believe some professional critics, as well as certain academics, cannot be satisfied if a narrative is simple and easy to comprehend. I can understand that some creative types of writing may "not be incomprehensible enough" for them. Lucidity is of little value to them, while opacity is much admired. Perhaps they feel the need to protect ambiguity. Some writers emulate this attitude, I'm pretty sure. Is that logic tortured enough? I don't know, but it puts me through the wringer. ;-)

I read As I Lay Dying for a university class so long ago that I only remember the basic story -- a dead woman's offspring taking her body to where she wanted to be buried. Oh, yes, I do recall Darl by name and there's a Dewey Dell, too -- a daughter, I think. I thought the names were peculiar, but probably because, at the time, I wasn't accustomed to the southern style of name-giving. Now I can believe Darl could be a dialect pronunciation of Darrell. You knew something the teacher didn't know!

I seem to remember the Snopes family from some of my reading of Faulkner, but I can't say I noticed anything 'wickedly funny' about it -- that I can dredge from my memory, at any rate.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Here are a few more authors that possibly could, or should, be added to the literary list:

Kate Atkinson -- She wrote Behind the Scenes at the Museum and many other often-mentioned novels.

John Banville -- He also writes crime/mystery novels under the name of Benjamin Black, but he's most praised for The Sea (winner of the Man Booker Prize) and The Book of Evidence (shortlisted for the Booker).

A. S. Byatt -- Possession is perhaps her best-known novel, even among 'ordinary readers'.

Jonathan Coe -- His What a Carve Up! and other political satire apparently tickle the fancies of literary types. He has been a judge of the nominees for the Man Booker Prize.

Iris Murdoch -- another Booker Prize Winner (with The Sea, The Sea); Murdoch is said to be by The Times as one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945."

George Saunders -- mentioned in other threads here at RP, mostly for his Lincoln in the Bardo

What do you all think of those inclusions?

I've been going through the books at Goodreads shelved as Literary Fiction. It's quite amusing, I think. Some of them have me scratching my head; e.g., Fifty Shades of Grey. I'm skeptical of that one, but it wouldn't be the first time 'Erotica' has been considered literary.



Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Three more authors just suggested to me at another site where I am involved in a discussion similar to this one:

Carson McCullers (The Member of the Wedding and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter) -- Her work is described as 'Southern Gothic'.

Flannery O'Connor (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away) -- Also said to be 'Southern Gothic' but more grotesque than McCullers.

Nathanael West (Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust) -- Both novels are satires, very dark ones.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woodnymph2_gw

I'm looking at the Wiki list again. I wonder, am I missing something? How far back in time does the literary list go?

Has anyone else here found the list to be amazingly Anglo-centric? Frieda?

Here are some authors I am surprised not to have seen included:

Victor Hugo

Albert Camus

Leo Tolstoy

V. Nabokov

Sigrid Undset

O.E. Rolvaag

A.St. Exupery

Knut Hamsun

Herman Hesse

Marcel Proust

Edith Wharton (!)

Harper Lee (!)

Evelyn Waugh

Graham Greene

Mark Twain


What do you think?

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Woodnymph, like you, when I first read the list I thought: Whoa. Where are the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Czechs . . .? It is primarily an Anglo-centric list. The reason: the parsing of writing types seems to be a preoccupation of English-speaking or English-reading critics, academics, writers, and readers. Most of the LF authors either wrote in English (even those whose first languages are something other than English) or did their own translations and/or aided in the translations into English. Dead authors, of course, didn't necessarily have that opportunity.

Here are a couple of definitions of Literary Fiction from the Internet:

  1. Literary Fiction. Literary fiction is a term that has come [came] into common usage in the early 1960s. The term is principally used to distinguish "serious fiction" which is a work that claims to hold literary merit, in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction. -- Goodreads (the bolding is mine)
  2. Literary fiction, also known as serious fiction, is a term principally used for fictional works that hold literary merit, that is to say, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition. Literary fiction is deliberately written in dialogue with existing works, created with the above aims in mind. -- Wikipedia

As noted in the Wikipedia list, the beginning cut-off date is the start of the 20th century -- with writers who came before then being considered 'ancestral' (their books are usually categorized as classics) -- influential, yes, but out of the range of consideration for this particular definition which is a 20th-/21st-century phenomenon.

Carolyn pointed out Joseph Conrad who was Polish but who wrote in English. I think he must have been an inadvertent omission. I would include Edith Wharton, W. Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, and maybe Graham Greene (although he seems to have rubbed many critics and some of his fellow writers the wrong way). Nabokov appears on the Wikipedia list.

1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
astrokath

Fifty Shades of Grey as literary fiction? It's not that a book couldn't fall into that category and also be erotica, IMHO, but that it is barely literate at all! Some of the worst writing I have ever read. I put myself through it, as an exercise to be able to talk about it to customers if I needed to, and it was excruciating.


2 Likes Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vee_new

Kath, re Fifty Shades . .. have you noticed how many copies are to be found in charity shops and among the latest 'trend' over here in banks, building societies even the Dr's where books are left for other people to take leaving a small donation?

It seems people bought this rubbishy book for its so-called sexy content only to be disappointed . .. by I don't know what, as I have never read it.

1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woodnymph2_gw

I must agree with Astrokath that in my opinion all the "Fifty Shades...." books are badly written. The author was recently interviewed on TV, as she is coming out with yet another in that series....

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
astrokath

The new book by E L James, which was released last week, is apparently a different lot of characters and has the strange title of The Mister.

Out of curiosity, I opened it and read the one and a half pages of the prologue, and believe me, that was enough. An unnamed female protagonist has escaped from somewhere.

'Run. Run. Run. Get away.'

Cold. Cold. So cold.'

I kid you not.

I would never judge anyone for what they read, but I judge the author and the publisher for presenting such rubbish. The original FSOG book was done online as fan fiction, but I was surprised that it wasn't edited for general publication. (Actually, horror, what if it was edited, and the original was even worse??)

2 Likes Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
annpanagain

As my laptop has been out of action for a week, I have only just come across this thread.

I have been reading a number of P. D. James mysteries and would class them as literary fiction as they had a lot of description which I skipped to get to the plot!

Reading all the comments, I have decided I am not a fan of literary fiction at all. I like a fast moving story and don't like to be bogged down with atmosphere and descriptions of settings, clothes worn and food eaten that goes on for more than a few sentences!

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
yoyobon_gw

Anna.......I agree.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Annpan, I've been wondering where you've been.

I think you're right -- that there can be a blending of literary and genre writing; e.g., literary mystery, literary sci-fi, literary fantasy, literary historical fiction, etc. (There's even literary nonfiction.)

Sheri, above, made an astute observation: Many book club selections often are of the 'semi-literary' type. They are popular but they are taken to be 'serious' and perhaps make readers feel virtuous and more cultured for having read them. The writers of such books are bridging the gap between stories that entertain and 'studies' that enlighten. I don't know if those writers consciously set out with that purpose (I suspect that some have that intent because, as Sheri said, they are wannabes and the style can be lucrative). The semi-literary type of book can be a boon for writers if they can attract the notice of enough book clubs, reviewers, and readers who are susceptible to suggestion. Oprah parlayed her influence to great effect in this way. And why not? Many readers enjoy belonging to groups and reading the same books everyone else is.

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woodnymph2_gw

Regarding "book club type selections" I find Ann Tyler's work to be in that category. I've tried to read her novels but I am not a fan. They seem rather "light weight." I'm not convinced re Louise Erdich either.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Kath, how does the shop where you work arrange the books -- into broad or more specific categories? Are the genres further refined into separate subgenres? I'm assuming that there are probably audio books available as well: are they sorted in the same way? How pernickety are the opinions of your customers in their expectations of categorization?

Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
friedag

Woodnymph, I saw one reader/member at Goodreads put Tyler, Erdrich, Kingsolver, and other similar authors into a category called 'Literary Lite'. That seems about right to me. :-)

I haven't read very much from any of those writers. Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible made me feel as if she was steadily thumping my skull while she delivered a sermon -- not the preacher character's sermon, but Kingsolver's own in the last quarter or third of the book.


Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn_ky

Frieda, you have hit upon what I dislike about Kingsolver's books--she is preaching! Also as in your post above, I don't want to feel virtuous when reading a book; I want to be entertained. I don't know how I would have made it through various episodes in my life if I could not have lost myself in another world.

3 Likes Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
astrokath

Frieda, we divide fiction into Crime, Sci-fi and Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Classics and General Fiction. We don’t attempt to sort out the literary fiction, although people sometimes ask for it. Classics is for books by authors who have been dead for over 100 years, so Hemingway for example is in Fiction.

I’m always surprised when people ask for the non-fiction section and are put out when I ask them to be more specific. We have more non-fiction sections than fiction.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woodnymph2_gw

Frieda, that description of "Literary Lite" for Tyler, Erdrich, Kingsolver, et al. seems perfect. Like Carolyn, I don't want to be preached at, but to be entertained.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
iamkathy

I've thought about this question for a while now. With the book app I use, one of the requirements was to be able to assign 0 to many genres. Since these definitions are not set in stone, I've kinda come up with my own distinction between literary fiction and "genre" fiction. To me, literary fiction is any story that has any "social redeeming value", although this is probably too narrow for most. And to define social redeeming value for myself, it is something that leaves me thinking long after the book is finished.

Save     Thanked by friedag
Browse Gardening and Landscaping Stories on Houzz See all Stories
Life Houzz Call: Where (and What) Are You Reading This Summer?
Whether you favor contemporary, classic or beach reads, do the long and lazy days of summer bring out the lit lover in you?
Full Story
Pro Tips 5 Creative Ways to Keep in Touch With Past Clients
Find out how keeping communication lines open can help you grow your business
Full Story
Life Simple Pleasures: Get a Book Club Going
Kick back with friends and a thought-provoking read for an event that’s entertaining and educational all at once
Full Story
Michael Nash Design, Build & Homes is a remodeling company, focusing on complete kitchen, bathroom, basement &... Read More
Crystal Blue Aquatics LLC. is a family owned and operated swimming pool company, built on 25 years of experience... Read More