Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I've been thinking about fiction this week. It's a favorite pass time of mine anyway.

I've been thinking about categories in fiction. You have literary fiction and genre (or commercial) fiction. What is it that makes a book "literary"? No, really, I want to know. Why can't a great romance novel double as literary fiction? What's the distinction?

Many people somehow think that literary fiction is better than genre or commercial fiction. Why? What do you think makes some think it so?

I have many friends who, if I were to suggest it, would laugh at me if I recommended a romance novel for their book clubs. Why is literary fiction "better" to these people?

What characteristics distinguish literary fiction from other types of fiction?

I actually have a reason for wanting to know. Post your answers. I'll talk about this more and tell you why I'm curious in another post.



Alyson Love said...

Oh boy. Well, the way the term "literary fiction" is used nowadays, it pretty much means any fiction that doesn't fit enough of the conventions of a "commercial" genre to be marketed that way. It's used interchangeably with "mainstream fiction" by a lot of people. I don't like categories -- by genre, by culture, within genres. I think of it all as marketing strategy. I think the snobbery comes into play because genres are marketed as fast food-- quick, convenient, you know what you're getting in terms of certain conventions being met. So fiction snobbery is a lot like wine snobbery or food snobbery or whatever. The original idea was that literary fiction couldn't be summed up-- it was more multilayered, explored psychological depths, examined universal quandaries, et cetera, et cetera -- AND it lent itself to indepth critique by academics and professional critics. It was to be studied, thought about-- you had to cultivate a taste for it because it was too high brow to appeal to the common everyday folk. It's like comparing a classical music to pop music. Pop music makes you boogie but classical music helps you grow more dendrites. The huge mistake that's been made is to assume works that fit genre conventions can't possibly be multi-layered, complex or psychologically deep, OR conversely, that literary fiction can't entertain you with a "wow" plot.

Hope that's lucid-- ramble, ramble, ramble:)