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Old 06-09-2011, 02:52 PM   #1
jgaiser
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The Emptiness of 'Literary Fiction' and the Stereotyping of Genre Literature

With the start of a Literary Fiction monthly book club, discussions on the Harvard Classics, and personal challenges to read on "classic" book each month, I found this article over on SF Signal to be timely and thought provoking.

His concluding paragraph:
Quote:
My contention is that "literary fiction" is not problematic because people do not understand it, but that we cannot understand it. It is an idea that is not designed to be understood. It is a term that tells us very little, and can be used to hide a lot. It is absurdly insistent on some idea of purity, of gravitas and transcendent refinement, to the exclusion of many other works that have as much, if not more value, to their readers. Its invocation removes the works it labels into a self-contained realm of appreciation where all other works fail to achieve what the authenticated "literary works" do simply because they are assumed to not be in the same category. It is hard to feel energized when we wrap so many conversations around such an idea.
I'm curious about other's thoughts on this subject.
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Old 06-09-2011, 03:39 PM   #2
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I tend to view books classified as "literary fiction" as things that are probably good for me, that might better illuminate some aspect of life or increase my understanding of human nature, but not necessarily as something that I might pick up on a whim and enjoy. My mental equation now is: reading literary fiction = unwelcome chore. For example, I've wanted to read Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" for years, but I never took out a copy from the library or bought a paper copy. Now that I have the ebook version, I read a few pages, was interested in the story, but still the ebook is languishing unread on my reader.

I think that learned response developed in college from way too many English Lit classes, because I know before that, when I was in high school and earlier, I read authors who fell in to the literary fiction category on my own - and enjoyed the books. I can't read those books now without mentally preparing a term paper in my mind.
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Old 06-09-2011, 04:42 PM   #3
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I think of "literary fiction" as mostly being a description of what a novel is not: not romance, not crime, not science fiction, not fantasy, not zombie-mermaid. "General fiction" might be a better term.

That said, sometimes those "literary" classics can knock you out. I recently read Hadji Murat, the old Tolstoy novel about Russians fighting Muslims. Ripped out of today's headlines, you might say, except it's about 110 years old. And narratively speaking, it gallops along.
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Old 06-09-2011, 07:47 PM   #4
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I hear "literary fiction," and I want to immediately run in the opposite direction.

To me, too often it means fiction that doesn't bother with a silly little thing like plot, and I think plot is of paramount importance. I want a story, not fancy language or "meaning."

Obviously I am overgeneralizing, but that's the prejudice I start with.
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Old 06-09-2011, 07:55 PM   #5
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I try not to get hung up on labels. I just read.
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Old 06-09-2011, 09:20 PM   #6
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i'm with Diap. but still, we can't prevent others from judging us on what we read. it's why i got an ereader :| i'm getting tired of the notion that unless you're reading "real" fiction/lit (whatever that means), you're not a "real" reader o_O. aren't books supposed to provide enjoyment? :| different people like different things.
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Old 06-10-2011, 10:20 PM   #7
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relax, some 100 years from now most junk produced will be forgotten and what is left will be considered "literary classics".

Last edited by Namekuseijin; 06-11-2011 at 09:18 PM.
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Old 06-10-2011, 10:31 PM   #8
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I read stuff that sounds interesting to me, some of it "literary" like Margaret Atwood and A.S. Byatt, most of it genre.
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Old 06-11-2011, 02:50 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by apbschmitz View Post
I think of "literary fiction" as mostly being a description of what a novel is not: not romance, not crime, not science fiction, not fantasy, not zombie-mermaid. "General fiction" might be a better term.
I highly disagree. Any type of book can be literary fiction. In fact, I've read more books that you'd not lass as LF that are so much more enjoyable then LF. The problem is that LF is usually saved for boring tedious old stuff books that are not really enjoyable. War of the Worlds is science fiction. It's a classic. It's literary fiction.

Quote:
That said, sometimes those "literary" classics can knock you out. I recently read Hadji Murat, the old Tolstoy novel about Russians fighting Muslims. Ripped out of today's headlines, you might say, except it's about 110 years old. And narratively speaking, it gallops along.
Not all books classed as classic are unenjoyable. Some are quite good. But some are total rubbish. In fact, a lot are rubbish disguised in fancy prose.

The idea of "classic" or "literary fiction" just makes little to no sense. A classic does not have to be from dead authors only. A book can be a classic that is not that old. I would class Harry Potter as a classic. Given a lot of definitions of classic, it fits. The only things it doesn't fit is old or dead author.

This is why for book clubs, having books in a classic or literary fiction categories is a bad idea. Because what is a classic to some is trash to others. Take Anna K. for example. I think it was OK for it's time, but for today it's just had it.
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Old 06-11-2011, 03:11 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
I hear "literary fiction," and I want to immediately run in the opposite direction.

To me, too often it means fiction that doesn't bother with a silly little thing like plot, and I think plot is of paramount importance. I want a story, not fancy language or "meaning."

Obviously I am overgeneralizing, but that's the prejudice I start with.
I don't like labels such as literary fiction or classic. The problem with such labels is that they are meaningless.
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:21 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JSWolf View Post
I don't like labels such as literary fiction or classic. The problem with such labels is that they are meaningless.
Classic to me means a book that has stood the test of time, that is not a passing fad. The book has to have been around for, oh, 20+ years or so and still in print and being read for me to consider it a classic.
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Old 06-11-2011, 09:20 PM   #12
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@Catlady, is a classic still a classic if it's available in the internet, ready to be downloaded? Or it's gotta be in print exclusively?
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Old 06-12-2011, 11:53 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Namekuseijin View Post
@Catlady, is a classic still a classic if it's available in the internet, ready to be downloaded? Or it's gotta be in print exclusively?
Obviously the meaning of "in print" is now changing.
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Old 06-13-2011, 02:47 PM   #14
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Literary fiction is whatever the literati claims literary fiction to be, nothing more, nothing less.
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Old 06-13-2011, 03:12 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Giggleton
Literary fiction is whatever the literati claims literary fiction to be, nothing more, nothing less.
No one is more surprised than me about this, but... I agree completely.
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