Thursday, May 30, 2013

What is this Literary Fiction of Which You Speak? (Armchair BEA, Day 3)

Oohh, literary fiction. What a problematic term you are. 

But I'm not here to investigate the vagaries of literary fiction. I've already done that here and here.

I tend to read in trends. That is, I can look back at any given year and see some overwhelming leanings. A few years ago I overtly and quite publicly challenged myself to read largely literary fiction. 

In fact, after that year of trying to read as much lit-fic as possible and a little reflection, I came up with this definition.
After these seven months of ruminating, I've pretty much decided that literary fiction is fiction marketed as literary fiction. I think I'm also still keen on my original definition that, "authors who write literary fiction might have more of an agenda than the average bear." Literary fiction is also (typically) critically well-received.This is the trifecta, you see: agenda, marketing, critical reception.
And OMG, I said I wasn't going to investigate its vagaries and whatnot. I'm so distractable. ANYWAY, for toothy discussions of what literary fiction is to me and the readers here, read those posts I linked up top. The comments were really thought provoking.

NOW, I'm gonna get back to something I meant to do which is introduce you to some of my favorite and LEAST FAVORITE (oh, I'm going there!) literary fiction.

Those Which I Love With All My Heart


 


  • Beasts, a novella, by Joyce Carol Oates - disturving, dark, SO very Oates
  • Everything Beautiful Began After, by Simon Van Booy - beautiful language, great twists
  • The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters - beautifully written, creepy as hell
  • The Blindfold, by Siri Hustvedt - odd, thought provoking, tackles issues
  • The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster - unusual, clever, postmodern

Those Which Belongeth Under a Garbage Truck

 

  • The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold - I kept waiting to be affected.
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan - I wanted to stab myself in the eyeballs.
  • Empire Falls by Richard Russo - Ugh. Made me dislike Pulitzers for a while. 
Ok, I really thought there would be more losers, but it's official. These are the three literary fiction titles I dislike the most. Possibly because I'm not opposed to STOPPING reading books when I don't like them. For whatever reason, I endured with these. 

So tell me...which books would be on your best and worst lists? 




43 comments:

  1. I love your definition - literary fiction authors definitely do have an agenda.
    The only book out of the ones you highlight that I've actually read is The Lovely Bones, which I hated as well! Beasts looks awesome though....

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    1. Thanks, Sam! Beasts is seriously amazing, and since it's short, it's a super fast read. Oates has an innate ability to give me the creeps, and she did so in this one.

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  2. No soapbox eh :-) Lol. And thank God I finally see that someone agrees with me about A Visit from the Goon Squad!!!! Pulitzer?! Sigh.

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    1. Well, you know me. lol HATED GOON SQUAD. The PowerPoint chapter was the only good thing about it.

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  3. Ha-ha...love how you labeled them....among those you loved, I haven't yet read JCO's Beasts, but she made my list. About her, I also wrote that I feel ambivalent. I have loved and hated her books.

    Sarah Waters is one I want to try....and I agree with you about Goon Squad. I've loved other books by this author...not that one.

    Here's MY ARMCHAIR BEA POST

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    1. Thanks, Laurel! I have been unsuccesful reading some of her books (Zombie). I need to read more in general and I have several on my TBR. Looking forward to diving into her twisted mind more in the future.

      Sarah Waters work is immersive! So good. I have other Egan books, thank goodness. Hoping they make up for Goon Squad.

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  4. Literary fiction is such a slippery thing, isn't it? I read The Lovely Bones as a teenager and remember liking it, but that may have been more because it was such a "naughty" sort of read for me. Dark and controversial. (I was still sneaking books back then.)

    A literary fic guy I've long been enamored with is Philip Roth -- and people seem to fall on both sides of the Roth wagon. I read American Pastoral in college and thought he was, in fact, smarter (and with more of an agenda) than the average bear. I wonder what I would think about it now, with seven more years of literature under my belt? Hmm. I smell an experiment brewing . . .

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    1. I love the circumstances surrounding your reading of The Lovely Bones, Meg! LOL I was in my early 20s and having recently dealt with a death that was life-changing, the book just didn't have any emotional resonance for me. It couldn't compare to the real life hurt.

      I have a love/hate relationship with Roth. I loved The Dying Animal, Patrimony (memoir), and The Human Stain. I detested Portnoy's Complaint (DNF).

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  5. Ha! I really liked Empire Falls a lot but Good Squad? No. I just did NOT get it.

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    1. I roll my eyes at Goon Squad whenever it's mentioned. lol

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  6. Even with your very clear definition of literary fiction, I *still* don't think I get it. But you know what just dawned on me--maybe I don't get it because maybe I've never actually read any. Maybe?

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    1. It's so hard to pin down, Debi. Because it's such a misleading label. What is marketed/considered literary fiction is so often something genre-related too! I think it's a label pubs use to make things seem highbrow. lol

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  7. I concur on Lovely Bones! Just was not my cup of tea!

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    1. It hit at a particularly bad time in my life, Amanda. It didn't have a chance. lol

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  8. Great definition! I've got to read The Little Stranger soon. I've heard such good things about it. I read Empire Falls for a book club and don't remember a thing about it. I hated The Lovely Bones too. Know it was super popular for a while but yuck.

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    1. Dana, it was really a great read for me. I have all of Waters other books waiting for me, with the exception of Night Watch.

      And it sounds like we're on the same page with Empire Falls and Lovely Bones. Cheers! :)

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  9. I haven't read any of the books you hated! I think this is clearly a win for me. Of course, I have Goon Squad on the shelves and now want to read out of plain old curiosity. As from some authors I love that get shelved as literary fiction (because I'm too lazy to try to define the term myself), Jeffrey Eugenides, Donna Tartt, and Tom Perrotta are some of my favs. Also, Margaret Atwood who totally defies literary fiction/genre wars.

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    1. LOL, Brooke! I like to think it's a win for you. I will endure the suffering to keep you from the sucktastic books.

      And I want to know your thoughts if you read Goon Squad. It's pretty polarizing.

      I need to give Eugenides another go. I hated The Virgin Suicides and I tanked when I tried Middlesex. Must try again!

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  10. Bahaha, I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad and Empire Falls. I love that people can have such very different reactions to books.

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    1. Awww! True, Melissa. Different strokes for different folks!

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  11. happy to see Van Booy on your list too.
    I have a very hard time with Joyce Carol Oates, too depressing for me. I have to try Sarah Waters!

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    1. Love Van Booy! He's so great. As a person and an author.

      She is rather dark, but I like dark sometimes. Depends on the mood (and the seasons).

      I hope you enjoy Waters!

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  12. First off, I love the trifecta.
    Second, you are one brave woman! Entering into the realm of dislikes! Especially with Lovely Bones on your list. I think you are going to get an earful!!
    Tanya

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    1. Tanya, thank you! I just like any excuse to use the word "trifecta." Shhh! Don't tell!

      And I keep waiting for the earful, but everyone's been very nice and just patted me on the head and looked pensive and forgiving. lol

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  13. I haven't read Goon Squad yet, but I will. It's already on my shelf. But I've heard great & terrible things about it, so I can't wait to make up my mind on it.

    As for Sebold, I liked Lucky, mostly because it all took place at my alma mater - Syracuse University. All high off that glow, I read Lovely Bones and liked that too.... but The Almost Moon was.... hmm... not that great.

    I haven't read the ones you've liked, but I've long felt that I need to read more Oates so I'll add that one to my list. :)

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    1. It's pretty polarizing, Sarah, so I'll be interested to know where you fall on the continuum.

      I've heard not-great things about The Almost Moon. Needless to say, I didn't try it after my TLB experience.

      Definitely try more Oates! Her short stories are awesome, too. Especially "Where Are you Going? Where Have you Been?".

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  14. I like the way you describe lit fiction, Andi. I had not thought of it in that way!

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  15. Oh, The Lovely Bones is a great book! Great picks and I liked your definition!

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  16. Of course I loved both Goon Squad and Lovely Bones, but I also love your responses to both. Such great descriptive gut reactions. And the agenda comment -- I need to think about that one.

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    1. Thanks, Barbara! Variety is the spice of the blogosphere and all. :D And yes. I think what's so memorable about these two is the negative gut reaction. Crazy!

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  17. Is it bad that I couldn't wait to see which where the ones that belonged under the garbage truck? :) I've only read The Lovely Bones and that was one book I wanted to throw across the room. Ugh.

    Right there with you on The Little Stranger. Love that book! I need to read the Oates one. Sounds creepy and good.

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    1. Oh no, Iliana, stuff like that gets me all excited, too. And I'm so glad someone is in the TLB hatin' club with me. ;)

      It's amazing isn't it? And the Oates book is fantastic.

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  18. Absolutely agree with you about Goon Squad. That was a DNF for me. Just couldn't get into it.

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    1. Melissa, I thought about DNFing. Seriously thought about it. But I endured because I kept thinking I'd figure out what all the hoo-hah was about. No dice!

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  19. I agree that agenda/marketing/reception have a lot to do with literary fiction! I am bookmarking this to look at your love list! Lovely Bones never seemed like something I would like!

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    1. Cool! Thanks for bookmarking! And avoid TLB like the plague. ;)

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  20. I haven't read a lot of Literary fiction but these look good

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  21. LOL. I mostly agree with you - well, I love the books you love, and the only book on your "hate" list is one on my "want to read" list ... the Russo book because I've loved previous novels of his. Have read other work by him? I'm trying to figure out if it is his writing style, or just that book!

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    1. I haven't read any of his other work, Wendy. I would like to! His premises, especially Straight Man, appeal to me. Empire Falls just didn't work for me.

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  22. Oh, bother. I wrote a big old comment and then hit a button . . .

    So, hmm, I'm of course thrilled to see Simon on your list of literary faves. And, yes indeed, he is both a great writer and a terrific person. I love him to death. Paul Auster is another of my faves. I like your definition. It was actually something I was thinking about, a couple nights ago. I wasn't sure how to classify Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence. It had a literary feel about it but I don't know how it was/is being marketed and in the end I just put "fiction" on the blog post. It has a challenging vocabulary and that sometimes makes me think, "literature".

    As to books I really hated . . . I tend to put them out of my mind but Everyman by Philip Roth stands out. You mentioned loving some of his books in one of your comments and I think I need to try an earlier novel. It really seems like from what I've read, he's gotten bitter in his old age and that's what comes through. I remember he said something to the effect of "Old age isn't just cruel, it's a slaughter" in Everyman. It might be, but I don't like reading dark/depressing. Give me sweetness and light, any day.

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