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What is Literary Fiction?

When I was younger I hated school, having started late because of my birth date. Reading and comprehension were difficult. I always took longer to finish assigned reading than everyone else. At thirteen, I picked up Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber and something clicked. Within a few months I had inhaled all 10 books. After that reading was easier, a more enjoyable escape. I travelled through book after book oblivious to what genre it belonged to. I was still a slow reader but at least now I loved it. My eclectic reading carried through to adulthood ranging from non-fiction, mystery, chick lit and yes literary fiction, especially Canadian.

With literary fiction the language is heavier, the imagery lush, the characters detailed and story line thought provoking. Literary fiction by design leaves a deeper impression. And yes, it can be fun. Many believe literary fiction is for ‘serious readers’ or scholars but any one who loves to read can benefit.

Is it Literary Fiction or Isn’t it?

So how do you tell if something is literary fiction? Some like to brag about it on the cover. ‘Muddy Waters: a novel‘, is a sure sign of literary fiction (but not always). Most of the classics are considered literary (anything before 1945). Jane Eyre anyone? If there’s a sticker on the cover for an award it is probably literary fiction. You can also go to any publisher’s website and visit their literary fiction area.

Since it’s inception in 1970 (Wikipedia) literary fiction has become another genre to further classify literature. The realm of literary fiction encompasses short stories, novellas, novelettes, novels and graphic novels. Sure you can have these in other genres but when you think of mysteries, horror or chick lit do you think of short stories? Probably not. Full length books probably come to mind unless you include Stephen King but he’s in a realm of his own.

To understand what literary fiction is, it’s probably easier to look at what it isn’t. Literary fiction is not about chick lit, mystery, science fiction or horror although they are marvellous literature in themselves and literary fiction can incorporate certain aspects of them. If it doesn’t fit into a genre of its own then you’ve probably found yourself some literary fiction.

So there you have it. “What is Literary Fiction”, clear as mud. When we are young we don’t get bogged down with what book fits in which genre. When it comes to reading what’s important is following your interests not someone’s genre designation. Read broad and enjoy it.

This piece was originally published 10/10/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

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