Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Literary Fiction and What the Heckfire Is It?

So, I made it pretty obvious that this ole blog took a dramatic turn toward literary fiction in the not-so-distant past. Hello "Skewing literary fiction one novel at a time..." tagline. And since I'm so darned interested in literary fiction all of a sudden, you can bet there's a reason. A few of them, actually.

#1. My brain was feeling ignored. I took a promotion to Program Chair of General Education back in October at the college where I've taught full-time for two years. When I was considering throwing my hat into the ring for this position, I specifically asked my then-boss, now-fellow-PC what percentage of the job is stressful and what percentage is just annoying. As it turns out, this job is 10% stressful and 90% annoying. I supervise anywhere from 14-30 adjunct faculty and a team of three full-time faculty in any given term. In short, I teach, I do A LOT of paperwork, create a schedule for the classes, faculty observations and coaching, faculty development, etc. There's a lot to it, I wear a lot of hats, I'm very involved on campus, but it's not that hard. What's hard is juggling the oddball schedule, long hours, and pure exhaustion with home and family time. What I found is that my reading quality was going down, down, down. Two years ago I only read ONE novel all year. And that's just madness.

In part, my decision to focus on literary fiction is a calculated move to challenge myself a little more. I often found myself veering toward books I only felt so-so about because I was too tired or stressed to read some broccoli literary fiction. Generally, I find literary fiction rewarding to read and I appreciate it, even when I don't really like it that much. *coughGOONSQUADcough*

Do I still read other stuff because it makes me happy? Hell yeah. Literary fiction just so happens to be making me happier than most other reading material right now. We'll see how long this phase lasts.

#2. I'm lazy. I said it. Reading my way through my favorite blogs, I always saw books that looked super-tasty, but I wouldn't pick them up because that would require effort -- asking for them on NetGalley, requesting them via e-mail from a publicist, actually buying a book. I still don't buy many books, but I am far more apt to add myself to a library holds list and actually finish the book before it has to go back to the library.

#3. I'm still trying to figure out what constitutes literary fiction. It's an ongoing debate and it ruffles feathers sometimes, and right now, my definition is pretty simple. Novels that have some lofty goal, theme, or artfulness involved in their creation. In short, I think authors who write literary fiction might have more of an agenda than the average bear. That's not positive, it's not negative, it just is what it is. I can't name one novel I've read in the "clearly marked and marketed as literary fiction" category that didn't have some purpose: to wow me with form, wow me with character development, to wow me with its deeply thematic nature, etc.

Obviously, this definition and my previous statement beg the question, "If a 'literary fiction' book doesn't wow you, is it then not literary fiction?" And my response would be, "Shuddup! That's silly." Case in point: I hated Freedom by Jonathan Franzen to the depths of my soul, but I can still point at it and declare with confidence, "That's literary fiction." And I didn't even appreciate that one. Just hated it. Franzen was trying to make a point, he just made me want to die before I could get all the way to it.

So far this year I've read 10 books that I would consider literary fiction (one DNF, Franzen!), and it's been a rewarding time. I feel a little "fuller" than I have in the last couple of years, which makes me a very happy reader and a happy blogger.

I really would like to know how y'all feel about literary fiction in general.  Do you have a definition for literary fiction? Do you crave it? Avoid it? Feel like it's unnecessarily elevated? Underappreciated? What say you?

I'm sure I'll have more to say as the year rolls on and I amass reviews under my belt, but that's how I'm feeling so far. More to be announced!

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