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What is literary fiction?


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Showing 76-100 of 356 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on May 13, 2009 8:45:20 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on May 27, 2009 4:10:58 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on May 13, 2009 8:56:38 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on May 27, 2009 3:39:51 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on May 13, 2009 9:23:16 AM PDT
Gail Graham says:
Now that is a coincidence, because my novel Sea Changes is also about sanity and insanity. However, I take a slightly different tack -- I'm interested in the idea that sanity is contingent, dependent upon time and culture. 500 years ago we venerated witches. 200 years ago we burned them at the stake. Now we medicate them. So on one level, Sea Changes is an exploration of sanity. Which of course makes it "different" -- like your husband's book. And "different" really terrifies the salesmen in the marketing departments! And (alas!) they are the ones who matter, at least so far as publishers are concerned. The nerds in the marketing department, many of whom probably don't even read novels!

In reply to an earlier post on May 13, 2009 11:36:20 AM PDT
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Posted on May 13, 2009 2:27:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 13, 2009 3:19:15 PM PDT
Evelyn Rizzo says:
Ms Seger, I found this to be an interesting discussion. I cannot believe that these sytems to maximize sales can continue much longer if they are failing so miserably, but how does one sift through all the newly published novels to find those worthy of ones time and expense? For me, literary fiction has the power to transport me into other minds, other lives, other sensibilities. If fiction does not have this power--if it presents a trite and cliche-ridden tale which stays on the surface and is quickly forgotten, then it fails the literary fiction test. Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment could never be classed as a whodunit --first of all we know from the beginning who committed the crime. As the novel progresses we are taken into the very heart and mind of Raskalnikov . That is what I would call a work of literary fiction. My own novel, Clarrie Hancock , soon to be released, aims for those literary qualities, but it remains to be seen whether or not I have succeeded. Evelyn C. Rizzo

In reply to an earlier post on May 13, 2009 6:25:16 PM PDT
R. Larkin says:
Gail Graham,
Interesting point. Many books are hard to classify in any particular genre, and sales do seem to suffer for it. From the reviewers' descriptions, your book might be classified as "Adult fantasy," except - that might have other connotations entirely.

Genres mature, and it takes time for publishers and the reading public to catch up. I began reading sci-fi when the only place it was available was in pulp mags or cheap paperbacks with over-endowed women falling out of scanty costumes on the covers, even though serious work in the field was being done. Today it is respectable, if not wildly popular.

Fantasy as a genre is still recovering from endless iterations of boys with swords and spells; but it is maturing; thanks, in part, to the excellent work done in England many years ago by Tolkien, Kay, Snow, and others. Publishers haven't really assimilated that yet, and until they do, neither will the booksellers or the reading public. Europe seems to be well ahead of the US in recognizing and publishing work that doesn't exactly fit any genre.

From reading the description and reviews of SEA CHANGES, it appears to cross at least two genres - fantasy and mystery. For many readers, the phrase "A work of literary fiction" is the kiss of death; recalling Spring afternoons stuck in class while the professor droned on and on about Silas Marner.

Interesting thread!

In reply to an earlier post on May 14, 2009 8:24:40 AM PDT
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Posted on May 15, 2009 7:32:57 AM PDT
Sye Sye says:
as ? wrote; there are books of the hour, and, books for all time. My definition of literary fiction swings to the second. Sorry it is no specific, we see with time, or, rather, others will see. . .

In reply to an earlier post on May 16, 2009 9:38:31 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on May 27, 2009 4:10:58 PM PDT]

Posted on May 18, 2009 2:33:34 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 18, 2009 2:41:08 PM PDT
Toni,

All due respect, but you seem to be laboring under a few false impressions about copyright law and the legal realities surrounding the rental of copyrighted materials.

Over a century ago the Supreme Court established what is called the "First Sale Doctrine," which essentially held that copyright only restricts performances or the production of new copies. This decision explicitly authorized both resale and rental of copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright holder. Further, no distinction was made between for-profit and non-profit institutions.

The Copyright Act of 1976 attempted, among other things, to statutorily incorporate what had come to be known as the "fair use" exemptions to copyright law. Fair use exemptions, among which the First Sale Doctrine is included, developed within a judicial context as the courts were called on to balance the rights of copyright holders with the rights of individuals.

Things have become much more complicated over the last thirty years as lobbying efforts by various industry groups have made a complete and utter mess of our copyright system. As things stand presently, copyrighted music and software enjoy special exemptions to the 1976 Copyright Act that effectively prohibit their rental without the prior permission of the copyright holder except by non-profit organizations. Videos and books do not enjoy the same exemptions.

Video rental stores purchase DVDs under exactly the same terms as consumers. Anyone could, were they so inclined, run down to Walmart, buy a stack of DVDs, and then rent those DVDs without the permission of the copyright holder. The same holds for books. Although they really don't exist any longer, there once were many private for-profit lending libraries which operated in much the same fashion as today's video rental businesses.

In reply to an earlier post on May 19, 2009 9:48:50 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on May 19, 2009 9:56:06 PM PDT
Veena Nagpal says:
Gail,
I read somewhere that genres are 'for wimps and publishers'. I couldn't agree more.

In reply to an earlier post on May 20, 2009 6:31:01 AM PDT
Gail Graham says:
Absolutely. Small, neat categories for small, neat minds. But publishers -- like humidity and herpes -- are a fact of life. A novel that doesn't find a publisher is like a newborn baby that doesn't manage to breathe. The publishers are not going to change. Happily, publishing is changing, and so are the definitions. Instead of literary fiction, perhaps we should say, "serious fiction".

In reply to an earlier post on May 20, 2009 12:15:35 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 25, 2009 6:38:54 AM PDT
Gail, when I try to define literary fiction, I am reminded of the Supreme Court judge who said of pornography, "I can't say what it is, but I know it when I see it." Isn't that true of literary fiction?

To me, literary fiction is recognizable by those with the skills of experienced and discerning connoisseurs, who are able to know literary fiction when they see it.

Perhaps literary fiction differs from today's genre fiction in that it's fiction for the writerly reader and the readerly writer, if that makes any sense, whereas genre ficton is for readers mainly interested in . . . reading certain types of fiction, whether literary or not. However, even this fine, and arrogant and presumptuous distinction of mine, does not suffice: while I cannot find one thing to commend Harry Potter as literary fiction, I know that it is soon-to-be firmly ensconced in the literary fiction hall of fame, if it is not already.

In reply to an earlier post on May 20, 2009 12:20:04 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on May 20, 2009 12:26:51 PM PDT
Gail Graham says:
I like the way you think, too. And I'd love to meet you. Are you coming to New York for Book Expo, by any chance?

In reply to an earlier post on May 20, 2009 12:51:44 PM PDT
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Posted on May 24, 2009 3:11:12 PM PDT
This is my opinion on what sets literary fiction apart from genre fiction--literary fiction has more emphasis on description and characterization and less on plot. Not that a literary novel doesn't have a plot (though sometimes that is the case) but it is secondary to the characters. There is also more emphasis on it being well written even if that means the plot line advances more slowly. Other than that it can have any kind of characters, setting, and plot.

'Mainstream' fiction is a totally different category altogether. Basically, mainstream fiction is a book that doesn't fall neatly into any one category, is usually set in the present and sometimes involves a social or political issue. Mainstream fiction can have elements of any genre, including literary, but won't fall into any one category. What set mainstream apart from literary is that usually the emphasis is on the plot, rather than the characters, setting or the writing itself.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2009 3:59:31 PM PDT
Gail Graham says:
This is an insightful, meaningful and helpful distinction. I suppose what we're looking at are three main categories of fiction -- genre, mainstream and literary. And I like the way you distinguish literary from mainstream.
This is a much better way of looking at the question than my original posing of it as a dichotomy. Thanks! I'm about to leave for New York, so I can't spend as much time on this response as I'd like. But I think you've moved the discussion into a new and potentially productive direction.

In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2009 6:27:52 AM PDT
Your distinctions have value, although the atomistic--separatist designation of writing into smaller and smaller categories is exactly what the marketers do, thus limiting access. My bp tends to rise when someone asks, "What genre do you write?" I try to say that I write "what I know," from my desire to communicate ideas, thoughts and experience. I was inducted into the historical mind-set by Mother's family story telling (genetic, perhaps.) I taught history and sociology for thirty years, the synapses, generally follow that "groove."

Readers, also, ask, "Is it your autobiography?" "No," I say, "but everyone writes from individual experience--poetry, fiction, even creative non-fiction are filtered through the perspective and perception of the writer. In this way, writing is "biographical," but not fully "autobiography," as I see it. I cannot write "you, " nor "you", "me." All is interpretation. How well we can do what we do, to reach and touch another is the goal and mark of our ability--so I think.

As a holistic, "organic" thinker, as someone labeled me, I bristle at efforts to tie-me-down. Some love the structure and flow of a particular stream. Some seek, "the road not taken." All deserve a hearing.

In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2009 8:13:45 AM PDT
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Posted on May 25, 2009 9:51:06 AM PDT
Gail Graham says:
Even for someone like me, who would describe herself as a "serious" reader, different situations demand different kinds of books. Sometimes I'm in the mood for serious stuff and sometimes I crave literary junk food. The important thing isn't what people read, but that they read.

In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2009 12:58:31 PM PDT
I, of course, agree with you. As a mother-grandmother and teacher, I think if the mind is fed whole grain, it just might be in better health than from Tootsie Pops. I watch "Comedy Central" to relieve the weight--for a little, but, unfortunately, don't have time for much "fun" reading. The stk by the bed is too high of excellent books.

This is a topic on which my experience and "feelings" run deep. I watched incoming college students change from having a relatively "common base" of information, gained from exposure, including reading a variety of literature to those who didn't know the difference among "there, their, they're." There is room for great variety. My observation is that the variety has tended to uniformity. Newspapers, once written at an eighth grade level are now about fourth or fifth. Once an eighth grade graduate was quite literate. I grew up on Action comics, Louisa Mae Alcott and Shakespeare. Now, the, too average" reading fare tends to, "how r u?" im gud."

In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2009 1:08:10 PM PDT
Ah Toni,
As elections demonstrate, there are many "publics." I don't recall the comic who said, "Different strokes for different folks," but I agree. My issue, being reared to consider the mind and its nurture of prime value, I am a democrat in the true sense of the word, but when the greatest common denominator runs the show the minority who have different ideas and needs gets trampled. I'm elitist (snob?) enough to respect the monks who saved literature during the "Dark Ages." I'll bet it has always been this way. Another example is the Gnostic gospels, hidden from those in power who would deny, censor,and destroy.

Posted on May 25, 2009 1:43:03 PM PDT
Great discussion. I've heard literary fiction described as "news that stays news." This means that the work addresses universal questions of the human experience that is not made obsolete by changing taste or technology. I'm glad Crime & Punishment was mentioned as an example of literary fiction that incorporates elements of what today could be described as mystery. However, the lasting value of the work is not "Who did it?" but the protagonist's psychological path.
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Discussion in:  Literary Fiction forum
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Initial post:  Mar 31, 2009
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