Picky Reader – 3

Picky Reader Rides Again…

Last night I finished reading Ashley Warlick’s Seek the Living.  A word here about literary fiction.  I seem to read quite a bit of it without realizing it.  Maybe because I’ve returned to frequenting the local library in search of a good read because my book-buying budget has been severely reduced in the last year.

I’ve had discussions with writer friends in the past about what constitutes literary fiction (as opposed to more mainstream commercial fiction).  And I wish I could remember what we came up with, but my old brain can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, and those discussions were long ago.  I daresay I’ve even looked up the description for literary fiction online in the past.

Since I can’t remember anything I might have read or discussed, I’ve come up with my own guidelines:  If the author teaches any kind of college level writing courses, s/he’s probably a literary fiction author.  If they’ve graduated from some hoity- toity-by-invitation-only writing workshop, they probably write literary fiction.  If the book is published only in hardcover, that might be a clue.  Another is if the author has been nominated for or won literary recognition prizes you never heard of.  If the blurbs from other authors talk about the beautiful language the author uses, if there are descriptions like “artistic…searing honesty…haunting,” congratulations.  You’ve just picked up a work of literary fiction.

Mostly what I notice lately about these books is the gaps in the actual story-telling.  It’s as if the reader is expected to fill in the blanks, figure out exactly what’s going on with the characters without the author telling you or showing you through the characters’ action or dialogue.  Ohmigosh!  The author wants the reader to think!  No wonder you don’t see books like this on the big best-seller lists.

Even though I often feel I lack the educational background I need to appreciate a lot of literary fiction, that doesn’t stop me from reading it.  I do enjoy some of the unique ways these authors put words together, that beautiful flowing writing, or descriptive language used in unusual ways to get a meaning across even to plebes like me. 

As authors we’re told to challenge ourselves with our writing.  Same goes for reading, doesn’t it?  Why shouldn’t you read something that challenges you or makes you think.  That might be the definition of literary fiction.  It makes you think or look at things in a different way.  Commercial fiction might do that as well, but its primary purpose is to entertain.  Literary fiction, done well, also takes longer to read.  Maybe because it’s easier to put down and that might be because you have to think more about what you just read.  It’s like a fine meal you want to savor and enjoy and linger over.  Which I guess makes commercial fiction more like fast food.  Quick, easy and often forgettable.

For Seek the Living, all those blurbs by other authors on the back cover are true.  Even if you’re like me and you can’t grasp every nuance the author intends, even if you can’t fill in all the blanks, read it anyway.  Like me, you might truly enjoy it.   It might make a literary fiction convert out of you.