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Trina's Section > Literary Fiction

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message 1: by Colleen (new)

Colleen | 314 comments Mod
This section is for literary Fiction.


message 2: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
What is literary fiction?
It's great storytelling with exceptionally good writing. I'm not talking about the classics which have stood the test of time (and cover art from Penguin paperbacks). I'm talking about contemporary fiction that's a cut above in terms of character, dialogue, setting--and writing. It's the perfect blend of form (novel) and function (narrative). Fine writing by itself is not enough. It has to be in the service of fine storytelling.
Here's a list of some recent books that I feel are the best examples of literary fiction. Please add to the list with your own books! Would love to know what others consider literary fiction. My list is in no particular order:

Morality Play - Barry Unsworth
Mariette in Ecstacy - Ron Hansen
The Shawl - Cynthia Ozick
The Passion - Jeannette Winterson
Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
The All of It - Jeannette Haien
Barabbas - Pär Lagerkvist
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Shipping News - Annie Proulx
In the Memory of the Forest - Charles T. Powers
Paco's Story - Larry Heinemann
Exiles (3 short novels) - Philip Caputo
Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson
The Good Thief - Hannah Tinti
The Master - Colm Toibin
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Regeneration - Pat Barker
Love Medicine - Louise Erdrich
A Very Long Engagement - Sebastian Japrisot
A Summons to Memphis - Peter Taylor

I look forward to hearing from you! :-)


message 3: by Bill (new)

Bill (kernos) | 54 comments Trina wrote: "...I'm talking about contemporary fiction that's a cut above in terms of character, dialogue, setting--and writing...."

I agree and would add books that change the way I think or feel about something. I'm delighted to see Pär Lagerkvist on your list. I read both Barabbas and The Sibyl for an exciting college lit course and they both have stuck with me over the decades. Indeed, I would love to re-read them.

One question—How would you define 'contemporary'.


message 4: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments For me literary fiction is non-pretentious writing that cuts straight to the heart and soul of the reader. Steinbeck wrote of the people of the Salinas Valley and the whole world felt them, as if they lived near by. Salinger wrote plainly of a dysfunctional kid trying to make sense of the world we live in, and suddenly there were thousands of kids like that. Hemingway wrote of an Old Man's battle against a huge fish, all for the sake of dignity. We all have our battles of dignity. Literary fiction is written from the heart and therefore goes to the heart.


message 5: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Trina wrote: "What is literary fiction?
It's great storytelling with exceptionally good writing. I'm not talking about the classics which have stood the test of time (and cover art from Penguin paperbacks). I'm..."


I think that Morrison's A Thousand Acres is better than Solomon. Just had to say that, sorry.


message 6: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Kernos wrote: "Trina wrote: "...I'm talking about contemporary fiction that's a cut above in terms of character, dialogue, setting--and writing...."

I agree and would add books that change the way I think or fee..."


Well, Kernos, that's great that you also liked Barabbas. I'll have to check out the other title you mentioned. I'm not sure if "contemporary" means "still alive" or not. I just didn't want to get into listing all the great books that have become literary classics. What do you think?


message 7: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "Trina wrote: "What is literary fiction?
It's great storytelling with exceptionally good writing. I'm not talking about the classics which have stood the test of time (and cover art from Penguin p..."


I liked A Thousand Acres, too, Rod, but it's by Jane Smiley. Not Toni Morrison. I was going to put A Thousand Acres on my list, but then started thinking whether the writing really shines in that. I loved the story, and I thought the writing fit it: nothing fancy, just plain straightforward prose. If Jane Smiley had written anything else equally good or powerful, I'd definitely consider A Thousand Acres as literary fiction! As for Toni Morrison, she of course went on to win the Nobel prize for literature, and her novels have all been right up there in terms of magnificent writing and narrative craft. I just happened to like Song of Solomon better than Beloved.


message 8: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Thanks for correcting me, Trina. I don't know why I compared those two books. Just came at me.


message 9: by Bill (new)

Bill (kernos) | 54 comments Trina wrote: "...I'll have to check out the other title you mentioned. I'm not sure if "contemporary" means "still alive" or not. I just didn't want to get into listing all the great books that have become literary classics. What do you think? "

I think I would use 'contemporary' about books more or less written during my lifetime (after I became sentient?), IOW contemporary to me or perhaps to those I have been able to talk with: parents, grandparents and great grandparents, kids and grandkids. Perhaps it refers to the 5 or 6 generations, I've interacted with. In any case it's fuzzy and depends on the book.

I'll have to consider my favorite literary fictions. It is one of my bookshelves.


message 10: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Kernos wrote: "Trina wrote: "...I'll have to check out the other title you mentioned. I'm not sure if "contemporary" means "still alive" or not. I just didn't want to get into listing all the great books that hav..."

Great, let me know what you add.


message 11: by Qwantu (new)

Qwantu Amaru (qwantuwrites) | 2 comments Native Son and Invisible Man should be on this list...


message 12: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Oh, yes! Why did you like them so much?


message 13: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
I thought of a few more examples of exceptional lit-fiction:

Ship Fever - Andrea Barrett
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
Open Secrets - Alice Munro
Good Scent from A Strange Mountain - Robert Olen Butler
Ocean of Words - Ha Jin

You'll notice these are all short stories. Rare to find a collection of short fiction that works well together, but in my opinion, all of these are wonderful.


message 14: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments I'd like to add King Rat, from an author no one seems to remember nowadays. James Clavell also spent time in a POW camp in the Second World War, and that's probably the reason this book was so authenitc and palpable. He wrote other stuff about the East, but this novel, probably his thinnest, was the best. Some men thrive in war, like arms dealers. It is truly a strange and corrupt world we live in.


message 15: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "I'd like to add King Rat, from an author no one seems to remember nowadays. James Clavell also spent time in a POW camp in the Second World War, and that's probably the reason this book was so auth..."

Didn't know that, Rod. I loved Shogun, also by Clavell. Terrific read. I just finished Unbroken. Have you read it? Also about a survivor of Japanese POW camp. Unbelievable true story. Wonder how Clavell's time compares...


message 16: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "For me literary fiction is non-pretentious writing that cuts straight to the heart and soul of the reader. Steinbeck wrote of the people of the Salinas Valley and the whole world felt them, as if t..."

Good point, Rod. What would you consider equally good of contemporary lit fiction?


message 17: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Hi Trina. I read Shogun - all of it! It's long but he is such a wonderful story teller. Haven't read Unbroken. I would like to mark it for future reading because I am a big fan of his, BUT, did Clavell also right that one...?


message 18: by Rod (last edited Feb 26, 2012 08:36AM) (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "For me literary fiction is non-pretentious writing that cuts straight to the heart and soul of the reader. Steinbeck wrote of the people of the Salinas Valley and the whole world felt ..."

I will tell you, but don't laugh. Elizabeth Berg writes very humanely. So does Shreve. They try and go somewhere out there where most authors don't even try. Sometimes they get there and sometimes they don't but they try. So it's always a pleasure to read their stuff. Unlike Ian McEwan and Coelho. Such intellectual drivel, even if it is beautifully written. Their stuff just seems heartless, no warmth there. Hope I don't upset you, but that's how I feel.


message 19: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments And, you remember, Jane Smiley....Thousand Acres was special.


message 20: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the setting goes to France (I think, WW1) and the anit-hero is trudging in the mud and bomBs are flying....Well, I wonder what Clavell would've said about that. Contrived is my word.


message 21: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "Hi Trina. I read Shogun - all of it! It's long but he is such a wonderful story teller. Haven't read Unbroken. I would like to mark it for future reading because I am a big fan of his, BUT, did Cla..."

No, Unbroken is by Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit.


message 22: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "For me literary fiction is non-pretentious writing that cuts straight to the heart and soul of the reader. Steinbeck wrote of the people of the Salinas Valley and the who..."

I actually loved Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg. She does write humanely. Small canvas.


message 23: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Thanks. Will look it up. I didn't read Seabiscuit, sort of missed it. Don't know why. There is just so much to read and very little time. I read quite a bit but I am not a bookworm.


message 24: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "For me literary fiction is non-pretentious writing that cuts straight to the heart and soul of the reader. Steinbeck wrote of the people of the Salinas Valle..."

Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "For me literary fiction is non-pretentious writing that cuts straight to the heart and soul of the reader. Steinbeck wrote of the people of the Salinas Valle..."

Exactly, you come away with something real. Also, she was a nurse, like my wife. So I am biased.


message 25: by Trina (last edited Mar 03, 2012 05:16PM) (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the setting goes to France (I think, WW1) and the anit-hero is trudging in th..."

I preferred Ian McEwan's ealier book called The Innocent, a psychological thriller set in Berlin during the Cold War, based on an actual (but little known) incident which tells of the secret tunnel under the Soviet sector which the British and Americans built in 1954 to gain access to the Russians' communication system. It was a less pretentious story though also spare like Atonement. He does seem to like to explore the psychology of his characters.


message 26: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "And, you remember, Jane Smiley....Thousand Acres was special."

Adored A Thousand Acres:-)


message 27: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "For me literary fiction is non-pretentious writing that cuts straight to the heart and soul of the reader. Steinbeck wrote of the people of the Salinas Valle..."

Trina, got to run. Really enjoyed that! Felt like I was back in school.


message 28: by Kristina (new)

Kristina (ZiggyZiggler) | 116 comments Mod
Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the setting goes to France (I think, WW1) and the anit-hero is t..."

Kernos wrote: "Trina wrote: "...I'm talking about contemporary fiction that's a cut above in terms of character, dialogue, setting--and writing...."

I agree and would add books that change the way I think or fee..."


Hi, I was followig your discussion with Rod about good contemporary fiction and want to say I agree. Am always looking for a book where the characters are all lovable and hatable and sometimes the fact they are so unlovable makes you love them. And they accomplish this just by being themselves, being who and what human beings are. That's what I love about Steinbeck's writing. Trying to read atonement now and I'm committed to finish it, but the writing style doesn't agree with me. Charles Frazier is good writing in my opinion. And Ursula Hegi


message 29: by Larry (new)

Larry Montello (LarryMontello) | 1 comments I certainly agree with the comment about Steinbeck!


message 30: by Gale (new)

Gale Howell | 14 comments Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson


message 31: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Kristina wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the setting goes to France (I think, WW1) and the ..."

I loved Cold Mountain. Not only the story, but I loved reading it. The English was so pleasurable. I am going to look up who Hegi is. Never heard of her. thanks.


message 32: by Kristina (new)

Kristina (ZiggyZiggler) | 116 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the setting goes to France (I thi..."

Trina wrote: "What is literary fiction?
It's great storytelling with exceptionally good writing. I'm not talking about the classics which have stood the test of time (and cover art from Penguin paperbacks). I'm..."


Have you read Nightwoods and Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier? If you like him, you might like Jim Fergus as well. Oh! And I LOVED the way Marcus Zusak fleshed out his characters and their relationships in The Book Thief. The kind of book that makes you wonder if the author can ever pull another one out that good:)


message 33: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Thanks for the suggestions. I've been meaning to get around to Thirteen Moons. Just so much to read and so little time. At the moment I am reading 3 books, tow fiction, one non. Bye.


message 34: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Kristina wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the setting goes to France (I think, WW1) and the ..."

Kristina, I agree with you when you say
"always looking for a book where the characters are all lovable and hatable and sometimes the fact they are so unlovable makes you love them. And they accomplish this just by being themselves, being who and what human beings are." That's what I loved about The White Tiger? Have you read it? Much more lively than Atonement :-)


message 35: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Larry wrote: "I certainly agree with the comment about Steinbeck!"

Me, too. Loved Grapes of Wrath. But Steinbeck is one of the classics. Who would you add from today's writers, Larry?


message 36: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Gale wrote: "Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson"


Gale, I love Orhan Pamuk's writing. The White Castle was one of my favorities for a long time. Now I find it slow going, though the set up of a double appeals to me a lot. Did you read My Name is Red? Absolutely divine use of character to show multiple points of view, but in the end, I can't say I loved it. Must give Snow a chance!


message 37: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Kristina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the setting goes to ..."

I liked The Book Thief for the most part. Inventive, and good characters who were easy to relate to. But somehow as a whole, it didn't engage me. Liked it a lot, but didn't love it. Isn't Frazier the guy who did Cold Mountain? That book started off so well, and yet by the end, it felt a little too predictable for me. As good of a storyteller as he is, I felt that the writing was sort of mediocre or serviceable. What did you think? I know a lot of people loved that book!


message 38: by Kristina (new)

Kristina (ZiggyZiggler) | 116 comments Mod
I think what I like about Frazier's characters is that nobody really sets out to do anything really grand but often accomplish something grand just by being tenacious and in possession of good qualities as a person. They don't even have to be intellectual or complex people to do that. I just like that type of character. It's what I love about Steinbeck. I think it's one of the things that really makes me like a book. Prayers for Sale, A Fine Balance, 1000 White Women, Mice and Men, Stones From the River... but yes, as far as the writing style, I can see why you would say that and can't disagree.


message 39: by Kristina (new)

Kristina (ZiggyZiggler) | 116 comments Mod
Trina wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, the..."

Also, is it cheating to be an audio book fan. I can take in so many more stories by listening while walking dogs, housekeeping. So, the narrator and the cadence they lend the story I think do affect my opinions. Will Patton is so nice to listen to. Oh! And I love Barbara Kingsolver's characters too for the same reason mentioned in my last comment. The Poisonwood Bible. Wow!


message 40: by Lena (new)

Lena | 47 comments Trina wrote: "I liked The Book Thief for the most part. Inventive, and good characters who were easy to relate to. But somehow as a whole, it didn't engage me. Liked it a lot, but didn't love it. Isn't Frazier the guy who did Cold Mountain? That book started off so well, and yet by the end, it felt a little too predictable for me..."

I'm always hesitant to take suggestions from ppl I don't know, but I'm going to have to read some of the books on your list now. You're the only person I've ever heard of who didn't care for The Book Thief (besides me). And I share your opinion of Cold Mountain as well, although it is well-loved by my entire family. I liked it, but I didn't love it for some reason.

The English Patient is definitely up there on my list of great contemporary fiction.

Others that come to mind (probably because I've read them recently):

The Road
A Thousand Splendid Suns
The Paris Wife

I'll probably get slammed for that last one, but I thought the writing was just beautiful, and a good story too.


message 41: by Bobby (new)

Bobby (bobbej) | 57 comments Lena wrote: "Trina wrote: "I liked The Book Thief for the most part. Inventive, and good characters who were easy to relate to. But somehow as a whole, it didn't engage me. Liked it a lot, but didn't love it. I..."

I really found "Cold Mountain" to be one of my favorite books in over 5 decades of reading. Fortunately, the movie version was above par and portrayed the characters almost as I envisioned them. "The Road" is certainly a recent enjoyable read.


message 42: by Kristina (new)

Kristina (ZiggyZiggler) | 116 comments Mod
Lena wrote: "Trina wrote: "I liked The Book Thief for the most part. Inventive, and good characters who were easy to relate to. But somehow as a whole, it didn't engage me. Liked it a lot, but didn't love it. I..."

I can see why you felt that way about "The Book Thief". Listening to books has probably affected my tastes some. If I don't have time to read and the narrator can't engage me within 30-45 minutes,I may miss out. Likewise, if it's a book I may not have stuck with, but the narrator has a fascinating voice, I'll hang in there.


message 43: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments I couldn't get into the Book Thief, and I don't think that a reader has to sweat to get into a book. It's the other way around. The author has to do the sweating. Take Pearl Buck's, The Good Earth, for example. It immediately pulls you in. And then it takes you on a ride with the farmer slogging it through life. You are there all the way with him, understanding and sympathising, till the very end when he knows that when he dies his kids will sell off the land he sweated his whole life for. Great novel. The fact that the hero was Chinese is irrelevant. He was every father the world over.


message 44: by Trina (last edited Mar 03, 2012 05:14PM) (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Kristina wrote: "Trina wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Trina wrote: "Rod wrote: "Tell you something, Trina. McEwan's novel, Atonement, which everyone lauded,well, suddenly, in the middle of ..."

The Poisonwood Bible was outstanding! It should go on the list, for sure.
As for audio books, I always find them interfering - either because the voice of the narrator gets on my nerves, or because the voice doesn't do justice to the characters. In a pinch, tho', I'd listen to an audio book rather than do without a book, like if I were on a trip. I know a lot of people like listening to books in the car. I just personally prefer to sink into a good story right through the page. And let the world slip away. :-)


message 45: by Kristina (new)

Kristina (ZiggyZiggler) | 116 comments Mod
I agree with you Rod. I love it when a reader pulls you in from the first sentence. I recently enjoyed some books by Joshilynn Jackson for that very reason. However, I must say that I would have missed some pretty good stories if I hadn't pushed passed the first chapter or so. Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, the first book in the Wheel of Time stories is one like that. It makes you wonder why the author didn't start with a hook and go back and lay foundation about the characters or set dressings later.

Different subject I thought you'd be a good guy to ask. How about stories with great suppporting characters that could almost carry a story line themselves? Should we start a list? Trask's Chinese servant in East of Eden is one...


message 46: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Lena wrote: "Trina wrote: "I liked The Book Thief for the most part. Inventive, and good characters who were easy to relate to. But somehow as a whole, it didn't engage me. Liked it a lot, but didn't love it. I..."

Lena, your post made me smile. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who didn't love a book that everyone else is raving about. Also, I'm glad you have a few favorites that aren't on my list. I'll have to check them out! :-)


message 47: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Bobby wrote: "Lena wrote: "Trina wrote: "I liked The Book Thief for the most part. Inventive, and good characters who were easy to relate to. But somehow as a whole, it didn't engage me. Liked it a lot, but didn..."

Great, Bobby, you're in the majority who had nothing but praise for the novel when it first came out. Thought the movie was miscast, and gave it a pass. What have you read lately that's exceptionally good?


message 48: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Kristina wrote: "Lena wrote: "Trina wrote: "I liked The Book Thief for the most part. Inventive, and good characters who were easy to relate to. But somehow as a whole, it didn't engage me. Liked it a lot, but didn..."

Yeah, the narrator makes all the difference for me, too. Some can impersonate the characters in a way that makes them come alive, but most overdo it or else flatten all speech to the point where one character is hard to distinguish from another. I guess I like the sound of the narrator in my own head as I'm reading!


message 49: by Trina (new)

Trina | 55 comments Mod
Colleen wrote: "This section is for literary Fiction."

Rod wrote: "I couldn't get into the Book Thief, and I don't think that a reader has to sweat to get into a book. It's the other way around. The author has to do the sweating. Take Pearl Buck's, The Good Earth,..."

Yup, The Good Earth is a good one (also a classic). What could be an equivalent that you've read in today's world? Maybe w/ the same themes, or involving equally moving characters?


message 50: by Rod (new)

Rod  C. Cohen | 40 comments Trina wrote: "Colleen wrote: "This section is for literary Fiction."

Rod wrote: "I couldn't get into the Book Thief, and I don't think that a reader has to sweat to get into a book. It's the other way around. ..."


Are you a teacher, by any chance? Good question. I have to think about that one, not that I have read so many books.


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Books mentioned in this topic

A Thousand Splendid Suns (other topics)
The Paris Wife (other topics)
The Road (other topics)
The Good Earth (other topics)
A Fine Balance (other topics)
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