Literary v. Commercial Fiction – Grudge Match

Yes, it’s true.  I’ve never been a fan of Literary Fiction.  I know, I know, it’s supposed to be the good stuff, right?  The meatier fiction.  The kind with more depth, that explores the human condition.  Right?  Ugh.  Nine times out of ten I can’t stand it.  I know, Oprah’s book club says it’s the best stuff out there and a lot of it gets made into movies.  More power to the author.  But it’s just not to my taste.

Give me Commercial Fiction any day!  I absolutely adore a good cheezy romance novel.  That’s why I write them.  And no, nothing I write is going to win the Booker Prize, but boy is it fun.  I love the nickname “Bodice-Rippers” for Romance, particularly Historical Romance.  Yes!  Absolutely!  Let’s rip those bodices!  Because it’s fun.  It’s sensational.  It’s a whole lot of hyperbole wrapped up in a beautiful package of gorgeous heroines and steaming hot heroes who always end up saying and doing the right thing in the end … and are VERY good in bed.

Or Science Fiction/Fantasy, which I also love.  There may be those out there who find it completely unrealistic, but to that I say hogwash!  The brilliant creativity exhibited by sci-fi/fantasy authors boggles the mind.  I love reading imaginations in overdrive.  To conceive of entire new worlds that bear only a passing resemblance to ours is amazing.  And so often these worlds are filled with hope, even in the midst of despair.  Usually in the midst of despair, actually.  They talk about the triumph of the human spirit, of the epic battle of good versus evil.

But no, there’s still that stuffy little voice inside of me that thinks that I should try to like Literary Fiction more.  Literary Fiction is about real people and real issues.  It looks at life the way it is, right?  In real life people are depressed.  They have a hard time.  They struggle to overcome the troubles of their past or of society.  That’s the goods, right?

Honestly, I find all that realism to be a bit pretentious.  And all that depression is just … depressing.  I’m going to go further and be radical and say that Commercial Fiction, my Romance and Sci-Fi/Fantasy, other people’s Mysteries and Horror and Paranormal novels do actually contain the full scope of realistic human emotions.  Who doesn’t want to fall in love with a sizzlingly built hero who rocks your world in bed?  Who isn’t involved on some level in the battle between Good and Evil and the expansion of the human mind and universe?  Commercial Fiction tells the stories in our hearts and imaginations with bright, vivid brush-strokes.  Everything that it is to be human is right there.

Okay, I have another confession.  I also have a wickedly selfish and embarrassing reason I don’t like Literary Fiction.  I’m not proud of it, but here it is.  There is a girl from my high school class who was absolutely horrible to me in school.  I was badly bullied through elementary school and on into high school until I finally left town, and this girl, woman now, was one of the worst offenders.  Well, she’s a Writer.  Worse still, she got a book deal and was published.  Before me.  She made my childhood miserable and then stole my dream right out from under me.  Bitch.  She writes Literary Fiction.  I hate her.  … No I don’t, that’s mean. … Okay, yes I do. =P  Told you it was selfish and embarrassing.  We can’t be mature all the time, even in our late 30s.

But seriously, it’s all a matter of how we like to approach the world.  My best friend loves Literary Fiction.  She also tends to be more stalwart than me.  Unless her blood sugar is low (then watch out!).  I have always been more, um, eccentric.  But as they say, that’s why Baskin-Robbins makes 31 flavors.  And coming from a background in Theater as I do, it also strikes me that Literary Fiction is more in keeping with the tradition of Realism while in many ways Commercial Fiction is more like Romanticism or even Existentialism.  It’s all about the package we like our emotions wrapped in.  I like bright, shiny, sexy things.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m right and the Literary Fiction crowd is wrong.  Although I would love to see book clubs out there read some bodice-rippers.

But what about you?  Which do you like better and why?

P.S.  I have a secret plot for revenge on my high school bully Literary Fiction writing woman.  She has a Facebook author page, I have a Facebook author page.  I want to have more “likes” than her.  Last time I checked she had about 346.  When I make it to 350 I am going to throw such an internet party that I will go straight to Hell for gloating so maliciously.  Heh heh heh.  So if you’d like to help me out with this, please click on “Leave a Comment” and follow the link at the bottom of that page to my Facebook page.  “Like” me and you too can support petty high school antics on the eve of my 20 year class reunion

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11 thoughts on “Literary v. Commercial Fiction – Grudge Match

  1. I don’t enjoy literary fiction either. I keep trying. Every time a new work of staggering genius comes out, my brother lends me his copy telling me “I just have to read it” because it’s so wonderful. And inevitably, I hate it. It took me three months to finish reading The Life of Pi.

    Give me a good suspense/thriller or science fiction/fantasy any day. I love the action. And, like you, I love the hope and creativity. (Not to mention that what the literary gurus fail to remember is that the classics of today were yesterday’s low brow genre fiction.)

    Headed to add a “Like” to your Facebook page now . . .

    • Thanks Marcy!

      I guess sometimes what we like to read depends on our mood when we set out to read things. I think enough all day. When I sit down to read I just want to be enteretained. Then again, I have heard Life of Pi was good … from my literary fiction-loving best friend. =P

  2. I like some literary fiction. My short stories tend to be lit fic. I think it’s mostly because lit fic can’t hold my desire to read or write more through an entire book.

    Even so, the lit fic I end up liking isn’t anywhere near my list of favourites. I just like it okay. I really don’t tend to like the award winning movies either.

    My favourite sorts of stories actually hit both keys. They’re fantastic, they’re “real,” and they also make me think or want to keep thinking about what they did, what wasn’t written, and what will happen in the future of the story. But, I also happen to like the ones that just entertain and strike my imagination up too. I also feel like lit fic tends to lack the vibrant imagination of my favourite genre (fantasy). I like all the creation too, the new worlds, the cultures. It’s more like getting to travel for only the cost of the book, I guess.

    I’ve already liked your FB page, if i could like it 50 more times I would! I’ll try to spread the love.

    I had a middle school bully. I must admit that I wouldn’t want to see her as she is now (last I saw a pic she looked like a meth addict) but I don’t think I’d like the idea of her being more successful at my dreams either. Funny thing is, I only got bullied by her because I was working up the courage to stand up for the people she was bullying. Unfortunately, the first person I talked to about wishing she’d leave people alone and be nice (first ever encounter with a bully) ratted me out and added a few choice insults in her report on what I said and left out the reasons why I was talking about her in the first place. All down hill from there, as they say. I became the bully’s and her lackeys’ main focus. With one exception, a friend once rode the bus home with me, the bully’s lackeys threw rocks just at her and ignored me (none of them hit) in order to “convince” her not to be my friend.

    I say it’s a sense of justice to not want a bully and his/her lackeys to torture your past and then get what you’ve always wanted in the end. Maybe if we read more lit fic we could grow beyond that commercial fiction sense of justice…

    Think I’m gonna go reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone again.

    • Hey! I’m just rereading the Harry Potter series myself! Almost through HP3.

      I went to an all-girls school and the bullying they did was much more psychological. No one ever beat me up or threw rocks at me, but I was deliberately excluded from a lot of stuff. It took me a while to get over it, but I did. And just because this girl from my class published a book doesn’t mean I won’t publish and sell more than she does. 😉

      • The psychological end is just as awful, perhaps more so. They would chase me home (or into the woods where they’d never find me because it was my spry and nimble domain where I could watch them trip over roots and rocks oblivious to whichever tree I chose as a guardian/hiding place) and all that, but for the most part it was threats, name-calling, ostracism, getting people in my grade to break into my locker and fling all the belongings out into the hall while everyone else was in class, etc.

        Whatever kind of bully, my sense of justice says, they should not be rewarded later in life with more success at their victims’ dreams, I don’t care if it was also their dream. They should at least earn it with a heart-felt movie-set-up apology that redeems them in the end. You know, just before they sacrifice themselves to the zombie horde so that everyone else can survive (I kid…mostly *evil grin*)!

        I’m technically reading two different books right now. Gotta finish them first, then I really will likely start reading Harry Potter again. It’s such a fun story.

  3. I like literary fiction; but of course not all of it. I read very widely, fiction, non-fiction, biography, auto-biography, history, sci-fi and romance. To me, a book is a book. Whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depends on how I find it when I read it.

    I’ve read literary fiction which I’ve loved more than anything, with prose and stories that have wrapped me up in delight for weeks. And I’ve read literary fiction which has bored me senseless and which I’ve had to force myself to finish. A book is a book is a book.

    Merry, have you read “A Suitable Boy”? Utter bliss and best of all, Vikram Seth is writing a sequel called, yes, “A Suitable Girl”! Literary fiction at its finest and kind of plays out your literary choices in its romantic themes. If you haven’t and can bring yourself, give it a go!

  4. Surely it’s about definition? Literary fiction tends to be identified by a particular (& often unusual) style or voice. It has few boundaries & is very hard to define. Writers of LF takes risks.

    And the mainstream genres (YA/Romance/SF/Fantasy/Thriller etc) do in fact exist on a ‘literary’ to ‘commercial’ spectrum.

    Literary fiction is traditionally harder to get published because it rarely fits a pigeon-hole.

    My own work (in revision) doesn’t fit easily into any of the accepted genres. It’s part ghost story, part magical realism & it’s a love story. It’s down to earth & mercurial – sexy, real & mysterious.

    To suggest that writing about real people with real emotions is ‘pretentious’ seems more than a bit unfair. In the end, surely what matters is writing excellence?

    • It could just be that it’s my personality to find that kind of realism in fiction to be pretentious. Maybe that’s not fair to the people who take it to heart. And I can only base my opinion off of the things I have read. I also don’t think quality of prose necessarily equals likability. Tolstoy is widely regarded as having written brilliant prose, but I can’t stand War and Peace. Then again, enough people out there DID like it that it is considered a classic. Again, it all goes back to “that’s why Baskin-Robbins makes 31 flavors”.

      Your novel sounds really interesting though! Very cool.

  5. Thank you. (Don’t know about ‘cool’ – it’s certainly wet! Lots of rain.)

    I didn’t say quality automatically infers likeability. I said good writing matters which is something else entirely.

    And I do feel you are a tad unfair. Pretentious implies an attempt to impress over & above one’s actual abilities or importance. I hardly think that could be said of Tolstoy! I can’t stand Dickens, & if I never have to read Jane Austin again I shall die a happy women. But but I wouldn’t deny their genius (or call any of them pretentious.)

    It seems to me what you are trying to say is that ‘literary’ beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or the reader. Which is perfectly fair. My point is that real life is, for most people, full of drama, romance, love, guilt, hate, magic, poverty, joy & a myriad other things. Seems to me that to write about these things & to do so ‘realistically’ is a pretty good basis for a book.

  6. Hi Kate. Lol! My point exactly! Each to their own. Although Mills & Boon aren’t my books of choice, I have read a couple & have to say, both were well written.I enjoy Steinbeck & Alice Hoffman; Virginia Woolf & Maeve Binchy. I love a good thriller too.

    For me it’s all about the quality. Good writing is good writing. The fact that I don’t like Dickens & you do, doesn’t detract from the man’s genius. (Too much Dickens when I was studying literature killed it for me – ‘Bleak Expectations & all that…)

    Just don’t ask me to read Stephanie Meyers 😉

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