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Customer Discussions > Literary Fiction forum

What is literary fiction?

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Showing 1-25 of 356 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 7, 2013 10:09:23 PM PDT
I think Scientific American sums it up nicely. But literary fiction seems to be going out of fashion these days. Readers are actually trumpeting poorly written works in some genres. Society wants to be entertained. Just look at how popular reality TV is. A literary writer has a tough time gaining any traction among readers looking for vampire paranormal romances.

Posted on Oct 7, 2013 2:02:34 PM PDT
Author says:
I'm sure I posted this way up somewhere above, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but I think Literature has the characteristics that it entertains, enlightens and educates the reader.

Entertainment is obvious. You like the story.

Enlightenment is more obscure; you may read about something you've heard of, but literature reveals, through the characters and their actions and reactions to a situation, a depth of understanding about subject which goes beyond the obvious facts. For example, "Timmy is in the well," is a fact, but how that well came to be there, and how he fell in, and how he feels about it, and how everyone else feels when they eventually find him -- dead or alive -- and the long term effects of the result of Timmy falling in the well MAY enlighten a person who never went through any of those events personally as to how other people have been affected by such events.

Education is obvious; there are old, abandoned, covered and dangerous wells all over the place. We need to worry about them and do something to prevent people from falling in.

Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe are literary works which did all of these things for me when I was reading them as an elementary school student.

Literature allows us to gain an understanding of things which happen to other people without having to experience them personally.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 7, 2013 12:57:58 PM PDT
Case Quarter says:
makes sense to me...thanks for the link...

Posted on Oct 7, 2013 12:10:27 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 7, 2013 12:10:47 PM PDT
Dragi Raos says:
Perhaps this might be considered a source of a useful working definition of literary fiction?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2013 7:43:33 AM PDT
Funny. Your last line sums up my reaction to your post. Tastes differ but I hope I never wander into a thread where people with your taste in literature are busy discussing and overturn a verbal trash can of my opinions solely because their taste baffle and bore me.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2013 7:06:34 AM PDT
Dragi Raos says:

Don't apologize, Linda - your time, your money, your taste. If you don't enjoy language or theme that does not boil down to plot (what you call "story"), fine. But don't insult authors and readers of different works, either.

Posted on Sep 30, 2013 8:36:51 PM PDT
Ick. Literary fiction.

Whenever I've had to read something called that, I've ended up wanting to go to sleep. The local magazine about town sponsored a contest, and what won was "literary fiction." I couldn't even read two pages of it. It was just rambling boring description that went nowhere.

In my mind, "literary fiction" exists mainly because some people have ideas about beautiful language, and precise combinations of syllables and sounds, ideas and description that they find has artistic merit. And those people tend to look down on mainstream fiction, and mainstream people, because they consider this type of thing "aht" and we should all read and appreciate according to these rarefied sensibilities.

Although I have read a few things I've seen labeled "literary fiction" which I found worthwhile (White Oleander comes to mind), most of the time I just blank out on this stuff. I don't read for precise combinations of syllables, sounds, images, and "beautiful language." If it doesn't have a character I care about, doing something I care about, and an actual STORY that GOES SOMEWHERE, I don't want to read it. I'm bored. Sorry. IMO this kind of writing calls too much attention to itself. It's as if an author, and most paid $20,000 for an actual degree to write this stuff, sits down mainly to say, "Look how smart I am! I can do this with the language! I'm smarter and more brilliant than you with my MFA!"

And I'm like, Who cares?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 14, 2013 5:03:43 AM PDT
Dragi Raos says:
Maggie, congratulations, but no self-promotion outside of MOA forum, please!

Posted on Sep 13, 2013 2:46:48 PM PDT
Good question! I've been wondering that, too, because:

Spirited Away - A Novel of the Stolen Irish is a 2013 finalist in The Kindle Book Review's Best Indie Book Awards, Literary Fiction Category. This historical novel, which paints an intimate, compelling portrait of 1650s Irish slavery in the Caribbean, now has 83 five-star reviews on its Amazon page (a total of 164 reviews, with an average of 4.3 stars).


In May 1653, fourteen-year-old Freddy O'Brennan trusts the wrong stranger on an empty beach in western Ireland and inadvertently places herself in the crosshairs of Cromwell's notorious Reign of Terror.

Freddy awakens in the cramped hold of a slave ship bound for Barbados. Ripped from her loved ones, she endures a gruesome voyage and a vile auction. Freddy, sold to the highest bidder, alone, and far from her beloved homeland, faces the brutal realities of life as a female Irish slave on a seventeenth century Barbados plantation. Amidst the island's treacherous beauty, she must find a way to bear her cruel, drunken Master using her as a breeding slave and kitchen drudge.

Heartsick with yearning for her family and the farm life she knew, Freddy reaches deep inside herself for the strength she needs to protect her young spirit from being broken. As she struggles to survive, she risks for the sake of loyal friendship and love.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2012 9:40:47 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 13, 2012 9:41:19 PM PST
I don't know Anne Patchett's work but thanks for giving me another writer to explore.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2012 9:35:16 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 13, 2012 10:19:28 PM PST
Thanks for sending me to Read. He does make a good argument but I think that argument is against metaphor use in expository prose since "to be definite is the proper aim of expository writing". He considers excessive or what he calls "decorative" metaphor to be vague. He also states that "metaphor is the swift illumination of an equivalence". (Check out Sam Glucksberg's "Understanding Figuarative Language", chapter 1, in which he fully explores metaphor.) Read concludes that "only the illuminative metaphor will be found appropriate in pure prose style". I agree with him. What he calls illuminative metaphor is not only poetic but "necessary for the apprehension and communication of ideas".
Literary art, though (whatever the form), is more than exposition. I think literary art is the re-creation and sharing of experience. The abstract language of ideas can be cold and difficult to see. Figurative language enlivens ideas by giving them substance and is, in my opinion, the lifeblood of literary art.

Posted on Dec 13, 2012 1:21:20 AM PST
I tend to agree and love to encounter brilliant metaphors. However, Herbert Read once made an interesting point in his classic English Prose Style that metaphor is only appropriate for poetry, never for prose. I would disagree, but he argues his point with his usual forceful logic.

Posted on Dec 12, 2012 11:14:27 AM PST
Beverly says:
Wow! I agree! Anne Patchett as well with her Bel Canto and State of Wonder. Do any of you know that the Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned an opera to be written from Bel Canto?

Posted on Dec 11, 2012 11:38:03 PM PST
Aristotle in his 'Poetics' wrote that for a poet "...the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars." - genius being the informing spirit of creativity and not evidence of a superior intellect or of being a "know-it-all". That greatest thing applies to literary art overall, in my opinion, and extends to all figurative language used by a writer.
In addition to this a unified sense of a works overall form conveyed by all of its parts - language, imagery, characterizations, plot, embodies the writer's world. It's the strength of that world, whether it's convincingly alive which separates literary art from mere "page turners" - work that relies on a satisfying reader's expectations by relying on stock expressions, images and ideas.
A writer's work in a specific genre can be highly literary - John LeCarré's "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" for example. Nor does popularity keep one from being a fine literary artist - Anne Tyler has proven that. Literary fiction is simply the highest quality writing from writers that demand the best of themselves. That inner aesthetic integrity is part of their gift.

The Mortal Window

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012 11:39:49 AM PST
Avid Reader says:
I think it's all about the quality of the writing and a love of the written word that just shines through. I just wrote something for Kindle, "A Deconstructed Heart" that I would hope is literary fiction. If it isn't, I'm sure someone will tell me on the review widget! I personally don't want to read anything that is not literary fiction, and I aspire to write something that is.

Posted on Jun 29, 2012 12:14:41 PM PDT
In my book work of literary fiction, Poker Tales (yes, it's a book about gambling), I challenge the exclusion of poker from the genre of literary fiction. Poker Tales is the bestselling work of literary fiction on poker on Amazon, but that's not saying a lot, as there is very little literary fiction on poker on Amazon. This continues to surprise me, as I believe that the act of reading a hand of your opponent's cards at the poker table is similar to reading a work of fiction. I channeled Chaucer, Melville, Wodehouse, and others into my novel as I wrote, and I would do it again.Poker Tales

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 18, 2012 7:11:12 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 18, 2012 11:23:42 AM PDT
<<I have just posted my own thoughts on the question in my website attached to my Amazon profile page. It's a 4,000-word essay, so obviously I couldn't post it here. >>

Anyone interested in reading Deconstruction Davy's monotonous jargon salad please be warned: if you click on the link to his website, you're welcomed with a full-frontal nude picture of the author.

You're welcome.

Posted on Jun 16, 2012 4:08:47 AM PDT
Thanks for your feedback, Stefano. Note that I am addressing this question from my particular angle on only a few writers. It's not meant to be a final or conclusive statement on the issue. The nature of the question of literary fiction cannot possibly be reduced to a pat formula but is inevitably open-ended.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 15, 2012 10:44:13 PM PDT
Thank you, David. Excellent essay on how literary fiction disarms the language. Yes, metafiction is the first trope of literary fiction. But you delved a good deal deeper and shun a light further.

I particularly liked (and I quote), `The drama and suspense that normally builds up to a climax in the plot of conventional novels, in Kafka is to be found in the unremitting suspense separating one minute from the next, one sentence from the next. Drama is realized through style, through texture.'

Perhaps that's the definition of literary fiction. Drama through text, not context.

Posted on Jun 15, 2012 10:01:39 PM PDT
There have been many informative comments posted on this thread since it started. I have felt all along, however, that the question of what literary fiction is cannot easily be answered in a short post. Yes, I know it when I see it, but let's do a little more here than dipping our toes in the water. To really do justice to the topic, one would need to write a book on it (many have been written), a book if eloquent enough would itself qualify as literary or literature in its own right. For those who are interested in a slightly longer take, I have just posted my own thoughts on the question in my website attached to my Amazon profile page. It's a 4,000-word essay, so obviously I couldn't post it here. In short, I believe fiction is literary when it invites deconstruction. Although I practice deconstruction, what happens when we deconstruct the deconstructionists?

Posted on Jun 8, 2012 10:12:49 PM PDT
Frank Mundo says:
Literary fiction, like porn, is something I can't clearly define, but I know it when I see it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2012 11:04:57 AM PDT

I appreciate your response. You define literary fiction in the same way I've heard a lot of people define it, so I guess the character-driven angle is common to a lot of fans of lit-fic. Fair enough.

I just wanted to point out that I never said literary fiction is the exclusive domain of some lofty intellectual elite. The way I define lit-fic has to do with the existence of a literary canon, and the shared pool of knowledge and inspiration that it represents for writers and readers alike. I don't think the lit-fic label applies to literary classics like Oliver Twist; this work is part of the canon whose influence literary fiction in some way recognizes.

Also, the notion of literary snobbishness isn't necessary to my definition of lit-fic. As I've said many times: plenty of good reads aren't literary, and plenty of works of literary fiction aren't good reads. I don't consider the term "literary" a judgment of quality. The term simply describes a wide range of literature that's geared toward readers who are already familiar with a wealth of classic literature, and who have expectations concerning its subject matter, its tropes, and its vocabulary.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 1, 2012 2:51:46 PM PDT
Richard G. says:
I also prefer an inclusive definition of literary fiction, but come down to it being a work of fiction that is primarily character-driven rather than plot-driven. That works for me in that genres are typically defined by a characterization of plot and the definition allows for literary fiction to emerge from the genres without any definitional constraints. To me, the concept that literary fiction is defined by being written for the sophisticated literary elite doesn't work, as so many literary classics clearly did not have that audience. Similarly, the presence of expicit or implicit references to earlier works now considered to be literary fiction doesn't meet that test either -- some literary classics are riddled with such references, others not at all. However, the image that literary fiction is either written for literary snobs or by literary snobs certainly helps explain why that label is often regarded as the kiss of death for commercial success. Perhaps the label is simply misleading -- literary classics are books that tell you something significant about the human condition through the thoughts, actions, emotions of their protagonists. That, rather than, literary references, class of readership, style or genre make them worth reading.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2012 5:40:48 PM PDT
Del, you're right that there's no modern equivalents of Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl on TV these days. No Bruce Sterling (sly and funny in his own way) or Paddy Chayefsky. No crazed satire. I suspect this is a problem of the medium. When TV first began, all bets were off and experimenting was in. Over the years in became milder and milder until cable TV had to step in and up the ante on the the S&P minders in the major broadcasters. Hopefully the current generation of Bruce and Sahl are slashing up pixels on the interwebs where all bets are off and nobody knows where the hell we're heading.

Interesting point about the crazed satire. A lot of Bruce's and Sahl's work was point out the hypocrisy of the times. That's getting more difficult these days when fact is often more bizarre than fiction. I mean, how can you satirize the likes of Romney (who, all jokes aside, is running for president). Hypocrisy has reached such some sort of satirical saturation point.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2012 4:09:56 PM PDT
Dragi Raos says:
"since Monty Python and National Lampoon were cult favorites"

The operative word being "cult".

I remember three other British TV comedy series of those days we were watching over here in Croatia: often quite provocative Dave Allen, mindless slapstick Benny Hill and sitcom On the Buses. All four very different, with different expectations from the viewers, all had their audience.
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Discussion in:  Literary Fiction forum
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Initial post:  Mar 31, 2009
Latest post:  Oct 7, 2013

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