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Constant Reader > literary writers

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message 51: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9233 comments But I think you're absolutely right, Dana, that lit and pop writers engage the reader in different ways. The way I see it, a lit novel makes you mull over possible
interpretations of people and their actions. A pop novel sweeps you along in search of "what happens next," a powerful incentive to keep reading.

message 52: by Dana (last edited Nov 24, 2009 11:56AM) (new)

Dana | 18 comments Ricki wrote: "they bring me a deeper knowledge than I had before, whether this knowledge is of human character or time or place.

Oh, I think I'm looking at it from a different angle, but not describing it very well. I get those same things from pop books, Ricki, it's just that to get there I look at the whole reading experience from a wider perspective.

Ruth wrote: "literary writers do not spell everything out for you, they leave it to you to interpret action and dialog and draw your own conclusions about character.

I agree with you. I think the difference is that whereas a person is liable to puzzle over a lit writer's words, a person who reads pop might find satisfaction in puzzling over the whole reading experience, which would include observing the feelings and reactions inside the self, the reader, in addition to simply puzzling over the author's words.

That's why I feel that reading a lit author is submitting to a higher artistic authority. If you believe that the author has something useful to say and teach you, then it's enough to delve into their words and their words alone. But if you see the author as being just another person, then you are likely to consider the reading experience more a conversation among equals, in which case, your own creativity in conversation-making becomes a worthwhile object of study. The conversation becomes the source of education and esthetic satisfaction.

Thank you for providing examples of the difference between show and tell. I was going to comment that I find those words to be platitudes, but you have shown me the difference. I'm not convinced that all pop writers write like you have demonstrated, I'll check later. But, even if you are correct, I think for the purposes of what I'm trying to say, differences in style and word palette don't change the fact that much can be learned about the self and the world through pop fiction.

message 53: by Ricki (new)

Ricki | 611 comments Dana,
I don't expect a literary writer to have something useful to say and teach me - it isn't about expectations, it's about the experience of reading a literary author. I learn more through reading them because in the very manner in which they write, in the content of the books, I learn more - not because I look at them as anything but another person because that is exactly what they are - incredibly good authors. Through their writing they just give more depth to the characterisation, to the description and with more writing ability than pop authors. And for me, above everything, they make me think. A pop author hands it to me on a plate and doesn't expect anything from me.

message 54: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9233 comments I feel the same way, Ricki. Especially about the quality of the writing. It is such a deep, deep pleasure to read something which uses the English language like an artist. Like listening to Andre Watts play the piano, or Luciano Pavarotti sing.

message 55: by Dana (last edited Nov 25, 2009 09:20AM) (new)

Dana | 18 comments I will check out Andre Watts. I appreciate that many people prefer the style of "lit" writing. I appreciate that style in addition to appreciating the style of popular fiction.

I see pop authors in the same way I look at Picasso's blue period. Limited palette. Limited range of subjects. Still, even with such self-imposed limitations, a great deal of expressiveness is possible.

message 56: by Erin (new)

Erin (ErinSkelly) | 779 comments Ruth wrote: "I think you may have missed my point, Dana. Which is that literary writers do not spell everything out for you, they leave it to you to interpret action and dialog and draw your own conclusions ab..."

Ruth, your samples are perfect examples of "telling" vs. "showing".

message 57: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 25, 2009 06:54PM) (new)

Perhaps I'm the empiricist among us, but I think that (conceptually thinking, of course) if each of us prepared two lists, one of books we considered "literary", the other of books we considered "non-literary," then our lists would not look that much different, no matter how we described in words how we decided which book went on which list -- if, that is, anyone can decipher that garbled non-literary thought.

I think we can each know it when we see it, but describing "how" or "why" is not so easy, as this discussion demonstrates.

And, Dana, I think I'm with you in suggesting an open mind about reading. I read a variety of literature, literary and pop, and enjoy what I choose to read for whatever reasons, even though I too am sensitive to the differences in writing that I see.

Harking back to the early discussion -- Joe, I think -- I prefer to spend my unlimited retirement time reading what I enjoy, literary or non-literary.

One more opinion for the bon-fire.

message 58: by Joe (new)

Joe Mossa | 126 comments HAPPY THANKSGIVING READERS..i am reading richard russo s NOBODY S FOOL for the third time. i could read richard s books over and over. will buy THAT OLD CAPE MAGIC for xmas and read it again. read STRAIGHT MAN to prepare for MAGIC. JOE

message 59: by Sara (new)

Sara (Seracat) | 1714 comments I've mostly stayed out of this thread because, frankly, it fills me with frustration. I agree with Russ2's comment in #57--we know which is which for us. I just don't think the definitions matter much. For instance, Joe, if you enjoy reading Russo over and over, why should it matter if other people consider him a literary writer or not?

I find that it is the quality of the writing that grabs me, no matter the genre (for want of a better word)--for instance, I loved Tana French's two suspense novels, and would consider her writing to be of literary quality. Recently I tried a book by a mystery writer who has received high praise for years--Val McDermid--and the writing was amazingly sloppy (the same phrase used twice two sentences apart) and pretty trite.

But there are highly praised and awarded "literary" writers that I find unbearable to read: Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates come to mind.

Ruth's example of cleaning the garage makes some sense to me, although I would probably use threads from each were I writing the scene. I took a writing workshop last spring where the guy insisted that every scene had to "risk life or death for the character" at least as they perceived it. Which is to say he believed that nothing could go unsaid, no one could seethe internally, everything had to reach a confrontation. This is ridiculous. I don't consider a bunch of "rules" or formulas to be a literary approach to writing. Of course, he's pushing a sellable, supposedly systematic, approach to producing fiction, which just rings all my negative bells. He's very proud of the books that have come out of his workshops, but I would be lying if I said I would be a proud author of most of them.

So, I'm sure this adds nothing to the discussion :)


message 60: by A.J. (new)

A.J. It's impossible to define "literary fiction" adequately, as the word has competing connotations.

One definition of literary fiction is any fiction that is concerned not with satisfying genre conventions but with illuminating the human condition, or the nature of storytelling, etc.

A competing definition of "literary" refers simply to the quality of the writing.

From this, it's immediately clear that writing can be literary without being literary.

The fact of the matter is that critics themselves can't agree on what values are important in literature. One camp focuses on themes and ideas, another on aesthetics. They sneak about in the night with knives, stabbing each other.

Read what you like. If you like Russo, Joe, try Richard Ford and perhaps Thomas McGuane (whose father figures are even more problematical).

message 61: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7374 comments Actually, Sara, I think it adds a lot. I agree with you. It really doesn't matter to me how others categorize books. Reading isn't a contest. I read all kinds of things and enjoy different books for different reasons.

message 62: by Joe (new)

Joe Mossa | 126 comments
aj, thanks for the comments and thanks for all the comments from these very intelligent readers. i don t like richard ford but i may try thomas mcguane. today, i am reading of thanksgiving in a dysfunctional family in richard s NOBODY S FOOL. it must go on for 40 pages-funny,sad, real people.

message 63: by Yulia (new)

Yulia | 1625 comments As to Sherry's noting that "reading isn't a contest," I wholeheartedly agree. Sara, I had to laugh at what your writing teacher suggested, "that nothing could go unsaid, no one could seethe internally, everything had to reach a confrontation." Would he at least accept the line, "He didn't speak but seethed internally, intent on taking the confrontation to the next level"? Stay tuned . . .

message 64: by A.J. (new)

A.J. The notion that nothing can go unsaid is pretty bizarre, from a writing teacher. Did this guy never read Hemingway?

message 65: by Larry (new)

Larry Deaton Joe wrote: "
i need a list of literary writers to help me find more to read..thanks..joe"

You might wish to try anything by James Salter ... I would start with his memoirs, BURNING THE DAYS. Then move on to his fiction.

message 66: by Larry (new)

Larry Deaton A.J. wrote:

One definition of literary fiction is any fiction that is concerned not with satisfying genre conv..."

I like this definition a lot. And it makes me think how writers can evolve over time. It's interesting to read (in the order that he wrote them) all of George Pelecanos crime novels set in Washington, D.C. You can watch the transformation of the novels from what are almost pure genre crime novels to novels that really are literary novels which still deal with the same topics of crime, ethnic identity, racism, etc.

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