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message 1: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments I thought I would open this up to everyone. In one of this month's group reads boards (Naked in Death) a discussion has started about literary fiction. How do you define it? What makes a book literary? Do you only read literary fiction? And, if you prefer to only read literary fiction, why? Here is one definition below, but I have read a few and they seem to vary a slightly.

def: Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit.


Here's a couple of articles to get the ball rolling. I know few have a few author's in the group so I expect (;-)) to be hearing from you guys here.

http://janefriedman.com/2012/03/27/wh...

http://litreactor.com/columns/storyvi...

http://litreactor.com/columns/storyvi...



It's late here on the west coast. I might come back in here and changes this up a bit when I am more awake. I just wanted to throw it out there while it was on my mind. :-)


message 2: by Marie-Jo (new)

Marie-Jo Fortis | 35 comments I like this topic, although I haven't had a chance to read the aforementioned columns. But a literary novel, first of all, doesn't have to follow the rules of genre. So it gives the author a certain amount of freedom. It also invites the participation of the mind and is considered more intellectual and less entertaining than genre fiction---perhaps unjustly so, as literary authors can be vastly entertaining. A literary novel can be tragic, comic, or somewhat in between (meditative), but it will stimulate your brain, as mentioned before. It often insists on characters' psychology. It can also embrace a genre and take it to another level. There are, for instance, literary mysteries. Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD goes beyond sci-fi. I could go on and on, but I believe now, more than ever, that we need "literary." We need to reawaken literature.


message 3: by Ron (new)

Ron (ronb626) | 3737 comments Kind of sounds like "What is classical music?" Not real sure I know the answer to either. But, I think I know classical music when I hear it. Maybe not, but, I think I do.

What is literary fiction, then? The definition seems to call upon itself to define it. Literary fiction is fiction that has Literary merit? Is classical music defined as music that is classical? So, a literary mystery is a mystery that has literary merit? In computer terms, that would be recursive. A function that calls itself.

Still, I think I know what is meant. I just have a hard time defining things by stating that it is so.

So, literary merit. From what I've read, it would include the Wallander series.


message 4: by Beth (new)

Beth  (techeditor) | 1005 comments Leigh wrote: "I thought I would open this up to everyone. In one of this month's group reads boards (Naked in Death) a discussion has started about literary fiction. How do you define it? What ma..."

While some fiction, such as Michael Connolly's books, are plot driven, literary fiction is character driven. I prefer literary fiction that is not only character driven but plot driven, as well. That's why I prefer literary thrillers. But I enjoy some plot-driven novels, such as those by Harlan Coben.


message 5: by Beth (last edited Feb 13, 2014 06:23AM) (new)

Beth  (techeditor) | 1005 comments Marie-Jo wrote: "It also invites the participation of the mind and is considered more intellectual and less entertaining than genre fiction..."

I disagree with those who consider it less entertaining. Yes, it is unjust. What about, for example, literary thrillers? That's the same as saying "literary entertainment."

People read literary fiction, even prefer it, because that's what entertains them.


message 6: by R.V. (new)

R.V. Raman (rvraman) It's hard to come up with a definition. Sometimes, the age of a good book also seems to put it in the 'literary' bucket. In the absence of a clear definition, one can perhaps talk about attributes.

1. I see Literary Fiction (LF) as being more character based than plot based. A lot more pages are spent on each main character and their backstories.
2. In LF, a fair bit of time is spent inside the head of a character, and his/her reactions to outside stimulus. Emotions take centre stage. Consequently, the pace of the plot is slower.
3. Language and word-smithy are critical in LF. Genre fiction, on the other hand, can get by with adequate language that doesn't come in the way.
4. A majority of LF I've read has been on the sad/tragic side.

Not that the above don't happen in genre fiction. It's a matter of degree.


message 7: by Beth (new)

Beth  (techeditor) | 1005 comments RV Raman wrote: "1. I see Literary Fiction (LF) as being more character based than plot based. A lot more pages are spent on each main character and their backstories.
2. In LF, a fair bit of time is spent inside the head of a character, and his/her reactions to outside stimulus. Emotions take centre stage. Consequently, the pace of the plot is slower.
3. Language and word-smithy are critical in LF. Genre fiction, on the other hand, can get by with adequate language that doesn't come in the way.
4. A majority of LF I've read has been on the sad/tragic side.
..."

That covers it very well.


message 8: by Tad (new)

Tad (tottman) I think there is a certain amount of snobbishness attached to the term "literary fiction". There is often an implication that genre fiction is of lesser merit or that only the greatest examples of genre fiction rise to literary merit. I believe that, as often as not, literary fiction is just something that doesn't fit into another genre.

I also think that part of genre categorization in the past had more stigma attached to it, and presently is used by publishers as a marketing tool. There are good and bad examples in any genre and likewise a book that is considered literary fiction isn't inherently better than a genre work.

Shakespeare, I believe, was considered more popular than accomplished in his own time and I am still amazed at how many of his words and expressions have worked their way into everyday language. Much genre fiction is a more recent creation and it would be interesting to know how it will be regarded in 100 or 200 years. Genre works like Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes have stood the test of time.

To more directly answer the question, I think literary fiction is anything that isn't another kind of fiction:)


message 9: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments Tad wrote: "I think there is a certain amount of snobbishness attached to the term "literary fiction". There is often an implication that genre fiction is of lesser merit or that only the greatest examples of..."


Love this. I think it's a bit snobbish too. My sister only reads "literary fiction" and books set in Edwardian or Victorian England. I always tell her she missing out on some great stories.


message 10: by Donna (new)

Donna | 64 comments My initial thoughts about literary fiction were that it is work that's well written, works on many levels, withstands the test of time...I would think of classics versus dime store novels. True that is a snobbish way to look at it. Then I read Leigh's articles. I now have elements to look for. Literary work should be intellectual, have depth, introspective/deep characters and the writing should have style. Genre fiction's purpose is to entertain.

But I wonder if today's reader being more educated and literate doesn't expect more. So many mystery writers go beyond the formula for their genre and cross over into literary fiction. For example, Ian Rankin's Flesh Market Close takes the story of John Rebus' displacement at work and runs it parallel to scenes of what's happening to Scotland's new immigrants. Rebus has a broken desk that co-workers leave garbage on top of that has symbolism. To me that's a test of a good writer to take a genre and raise it to another level.


message 11: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments Donna wrote: "My initial thoughts about literary fiction were that it is work that's well written, works on many levels, withstands the test of time...I would think of classics versus dime store novels. True tha..."

Oo. Adding this book to my list. Thank you for the tip.


message 12: by Donna (new)

Donna | 64 comments Leigh wrote: "Donna wrote: "My initial thoughts about literary fiction were that it is work that's well written, works on many levels, withstands the test of time...I would think of classics versus dime store no..."

You're welcome! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

" Genre fiction's purpose is to entertain." - in which case, I would ask then, what is the purpose of literary fiction?

"today's reader being more educated and literate" - more educated perhaps in terms of the total number of hours spent in classrooms, but are we more literate? During 25 years in the classroom (as a teacher, not an endlessly failing student) here in the UK, I saw standards of literacy fall as a result of the National Curriculum. To get an A in English Literature at GCSE, students do not need to have grasped or even to have read a whole text, they can just memorise key quotations and some notes. A newly published literary novel gets into the top ten if it manages to sell a few thousand copies - in a country of 65 million people.

On Amazon's KDP program, writers get to decide whether to categorise their work as literary fiction or not; the vast majority of those that do so have not a clue as to what it means - and these, in theory, ought to be amongst the most literate!

I have read and enjoyed a couple of Wallanders and even a Rebus. They are towards the top end of detective fiction in terms of quality but I don't view either as literary fiction.


message 14: by Donna (last edited Mar 08, 2014 09:05AM) (new)

Donna | 64 comments Robert wrote: "" Genre fiction's purpose is to entertain." - in which case, I would ask then, what is the purpose of literary fiction?

"today's reader being more educated and literate" - more educated perhaps in..."

In this high tech era, we do assume ourselves to be more highly educated. Its hard to imagine anyone unable to read with all of our gadgets. I once worked with a cook who had all sorts of coping techniques. She'd get us to read labels under the pretense that she'd forgotten her glasses and she had several reasons why she couldn't fill out the food orders. It may have been that she could read in an other language, because she had been born in another country. It is also sad to know that there are young people who fall between the cracks because of learning disabilities, bad life choices or home situations.
That said, sure Ian Rankin isn't Shakespeare, but I think he's very clever and talented the way he writes within his genre.


message 15: by Tad (new)

Tad (tottman) A very funny send-up of literary fiction and the publishing industry is How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. It hilariously mocks the process of what makes something successful. It's worth checking out for the made-up NY Times bestseller list alone.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Hello Donna,

I suppose the most important question is whether your friend could actually cook! I accept that it is true that more people in the world are able to read today than ever before but I don't think that that translates into more people enjoying what is generally labelled 'literary fiction', the subject of the OP. I believe that that sort of literature has always been a minority interest - and why that might be is a fascinating topic in itself - but it is worth remembering that Dickens, for example, was widely read in serial publication by literate, working class Victorians, and that Shakespeare's audiences were predominantly what we would now call lower class, despite the occasional visits by royalty. Somehow they grasped imagery that we now explore on degree courses.

Thank you for commenting on my blog - it made my day! I said I would continue if anyone ever did so, so now I don't know what to do. I do not write for money but for the interest that I have in language and narrative techniques. Neither do I market or promote my novels (wouldn't have the first idea how to) but as they are already mentioned on Goodreads I don't think it's too out-of order to say that one is currently free. If I could make them all free all the time, I think I would; I'd much rather discuss fiction than get paid for writing it, to be honest.

The novel that Jamie is referring to is actually on my desk but I've not been a student for a rather long time...


message 17: by Donna (new)

Donna | 64 comments Robert wrote: "Hello Donna,

I suppose the most important question is whether your friend could actually cook! I accept that it is true that more people in the world are able to read today than ever before but I ..."

See, there's that test of time. We can talk about characters, symbolism etc, but will we find it on a library shelf hundreds of years from now. That is a test you can apply to any art form.
Oh, and yes she was a very good cook. So her secret was never challenged.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Jamie Lynn wrote: "Well student or no student I hope your novel can leave the desk Robert. :)"

It has permission to leave but has not yet decided to do so - nevertheless, hope springs eternal in the human breast.

The OP invited us to answer a question - what is literary fiction? This has always intrigued me because whenever it is discussed all sorts of other issues arise to do with cultural elitism and even social class. Some earlier posts made useful suggestions but I don't think it can be defined simply by a list of criteria. Something I would add is that the best fiction demands something of the reader - it might be that the theme is challenging or that the language or point of view is in some way unusual, but, for whatever reason, one cannot simply sit back and be passive. I think that most novels that can be read passively, often merely for the 'story', are not then potentially great works of fiction. For me, just finding out what happens next is not enough; not that I never read such things but they don't qualify as literary fiction for me unless they can do more than that.

As Donna says, time has a way of filtering out the rubbish but it would be useful to be able to spot and enjoy the best that is being written now while we are still alive!


message 19: by Kate (new)

Kate Vane (katevane) It's a shame that literary fiction is such a value-laden term. For me it means books where there is more emphasis on the use of language and of ideas than on plot, or for books that don't follow the rules of genre. I suppose we also use it to describe books that don't easily fit anywhere else.

However, I would never say that literary fiction is better than genre fiction. Some crime writers are great stylists, others engage with important ideas and social issues. And some literary authors write meandering, poorly structured books that don't say much about anything.

Ultimately there are good and bad books in all genres.


message 20: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments Tad wrote: "A very funny send-up of literary fiction and the publishing industry is How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. It hilariously mocks the process of what makes..."

This book sounds hilarious!!!


message 21: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments Robert wrote: "Jamie Lynn wrote: "Well student or no student I hope your novel can leave the desk Robert. :)"

It has permission to leave but has not yet decided to do so - nevertheless, hope springs eternal in t..."


Very well said Robert.

On to the term "literary" I think the word currently is is a bit of a code word for PR more than anything else so for me it makes no difference on weather I read a book or not.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

"a bit of a code word for PR more than anything else"

Because 'literary fiction' has no clearly defined or definable boundaries, it is open to misuse, if not abuse. And because it is somehow to do with the overall quality of the writing, it becomes somewhat embarrassing when the author himself or herself decides that their novel is of sufficient merit to be labelled as 'literary fiction'. This happens often on the KDP platform at present; any genuinely good work in that category is likely to be swamped by poor efforts that their writers have, nevertheless, pronounced as 'literary'. Lately I have found two very well-written novels there but only by good fortune. It would take time and patience to sort out the diamonds from the rough on a regular basis.


message 23: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments Jamie Lynn wrote: "I am sometimes disappointed when I read a book that the world thinks is great and then I read it and think..meh. lol"

I've done that. My city does a "One City, One Book" thing and last year I did not care for the book. It has over 10,000 reviews here on Goodreads and an average over four stars but I didn't not get it. It just didn't connect with me.


message 24: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments Jamie Lynn wrote: "Maybe some people are convinced that they must like it! LOL"

Wouldn't surprise me. Everyone wants to belong and sometimes belonging is reading and liking what everyone else likes.


message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 13, 2014 03:25AM) (new)

Wouldn't surprise me. Everyone wants to belong and sometimes belonging is reading and liking what everyone else likes."

Sheep reading knitting patterns.


message 26: by Leigh (new)

Leigh | 6313 comments Janet wrote: "Thanks, Leigh, for the links above defining Literary Fiction. As a Literary and General Fiction reader I find the articles so good.

I find the strong emphasis on characters rather than action the..."


Most Welcome, Janet.


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

" The characters' inner journey - their thoughts and feelings and psychological and emotional transformation through the story - is a lot more important."

Nicely put - that's exactly what I read for. I often wonder why it seems to be such a minority of people who want that type of experience, though; it seems that the vast majority want to escape real life rather than to explore it. A shame but I guess it takes all sorts.


message 28: by W. (new)

W. (wlen) | 4 comments A bit late here, but my reading circle was having this exact same discussion the other night! Here's what we came up with:

Literary fiction: One thing happens. Everyone spends the whole book obsessing about that one thing.

Genre fiction: Many things happen. Nobody spends any time thinking about it.

Obviously, it's a humorous attempt to define these.

I suspect literary and genre fiction are oftentimes marketing terms. People and their reading habits can't be classified into neat little buckets.There are so many books that don't fit into neat categories.

I love it when authors like David Mitchell write across genres and it resonates. If anyone has any other recommendations that are both literary/genre-ish, please let me know!


message 29: by Sue (new)

Sue Coletta (suecoletta) | 9 comments Literary fiction is when the prose is almost poetic, beautiful words strung together to form a visceral response. It's not for everyone. When done correctly, it can be quite beautiful. Personally, I'm more of a genre fan.


message 30: by W. (new)

W. (wlen) | 4 comments Lately I read local authors who will probably never make it past our home town. I just enjoy reading them because they're so close. It's a new twist for me. I'm sorry to say that they haven't been very good but I keep hoping one of them will be really good! "

I like how you support local authors. Everyone reads for different reasons and it can be nice to read about things closer to home.


message 31: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) There's a fun group on Goodreads which actively discusses these matters:

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
Always looking for new minds and new opinions.

and this one, as well (though not as fun, there are some psychos there):
https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...


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