The Literary Fiction Book Tag

The Literary Fiction Book Tag

hi guys it's Claire welcome back today I am here to do the literary fiction book tag which was just created by jasmine over at Jasmine's reads and I think this is the first tag I've done in over a year so I'm excited about this and I think the questions are really interesting so let's get right into it the first question is how do you define literary fiction and I think Jasmine's definition of literary fiction was spot-on when she described it as fiction that has a focus on language and character and an exploration of the human condition with less of an emphasis on plot and I would agree that that emphasis on craft is probably what most defines literary fiction for me I would also say that there is an aversion to formula in literary fiction that separates it from genre fiction where genre fiction is often operating within an expected formula or framework literary fiction is not and where Shana fiction has a certain contract with the reader to deliver some degree of satisfaction or entertainment or a particular kind of ending literary fiction I would say has a contract with the reader to deliver satisfaction through excellent writing thematic texture and nuanced characters to be totally productive about it I would say that genre fiction is more a great story well told while literary fiction kind of lives and dies on the quality of its writing and I would say the degree to which it digs into the human condition which is why I think sometimes literary fiction can have that reputation of being difficult or self-serious one question I would like to pose is do you consider certain classics as falling under the umbrella of literary fiction because according to my very cursory internet research the term literary fiction really only came into common usage in the mid 20th century and in my experience it's often used to refer to contemporary books so would you classify something like Jane Eyre as literary fiction because it certainly meets all of the qualifications just discussed but I guess in my mind I've always kind of thought of it as being classic war falling under Victorian literature and I only mentioned this because it was a question I ran into while I was trying to choose books for the following questions for example the second question is named a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study and the first book that immediately came to mind for me it was the let by Charlotte Bronte which absolutely takes place entirely in the mind of its protagonists Oh Lucy Snow who is quiet and reserved an overlooked in her everyday life but whose consciousness is aflame with desires and observations and assessments of the world and people around her so it's a fascinating look at one characters in her life and psychology but it was also written in 1853 so does it qualify as literary fiction I don't know probably not so my more appropriate pick for this question is the idiot by Elath bottom in' which perhaps not coincidentally is kind of a latter-day Villette in many ways it's narrator Celyn is an awkward Turkish American freshman at Harvard in the 90s who's just kind of trying to figure everything out like Lucy snow she's a bit of a Wallflower not very sure of herself and she's much more of an observer than an actor always kind of a half of a step removed from the things happening around her and what this book captures beautifully is the uncertainty and stupidity of youth at that time of life when you're wrestling with these desires that you don't completely understand when you're trying to figure out who you are and what's meaningful and while I can understand why some readers may find Selene to be a very frustrating character to me she is so recognizable and real and a kind of flesh and blood 19 year old and her character development and the ways in which she grows and doesn't grow changes and doesn't change felt so true to me the next question is name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing and I have to say I'm not particularly drawn to experimental literary fiction so my options for this are somewhat limited but for me the obvious choice is milkman by Anna burns I've heard the language in this novel described as quite a stream of consciousness and I wouldn't say it's stream-of-consciousness in the modernist sense it does have a very loose and a liquid feel to it sentences run on the narrative often flows from one scene to another and then we'll circle back to the original scene or an earlier scene in a way that I think very effectively incorporates the thoughts and memories of the narrator into her present active experiences and in addition to that the language in this book has a very colloquial and local feel to it it's set in Belfast in the 1970s and it sounds like it and there is a lack of proper nouns in this book that I think in any other book might feel like an affectation but here it feels very natural and kind of beautifully evokes the very insular quality of the community being depicted and I think that's why I enjoyed the writing in milkman so much kind of to my surprise because we're a lot of experimental writing often feels quite affected and effortful and self-conscious to me the writing here just feels incredibly natural and organic to the story being told next up is named a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure and for this one I'm gonna go with asymmetry by Lisa Halliday because it is quite notably a novel made up of two seemingly unrelated stories the first about a young woman living in New York who's having an affair with an older Philip Roth esque writer and the second about an iraqi-american man who is being detained at Heathrow Airport while trying to visit his missing brother in Iraq it's quite unusual but I would say that the structure and the kind of subtle ways that these two disparate stories are tied together is the most interesting thing about this novel and if you want to know more about that I'm going to link my full review to it down below question 5 is name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes so many different novels could fit for this question so it's kind of difficult to choose but I am going to go with the vegetarian and human acts both of which are by South Korean author Hong Kong the vegetarian explores feminism and gender dynamics and issues of mental health and bodily autonomy and South Korea while human acts follows several characters in the years after the gwangju uprising but took place in South Korea in the spring of 1980 the stories in that novel look at the social and psychological and human toll of political corruption and state sanctioned violence against citizens the next question is name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition and again because one of the definitions of literary fiction is fiction that explores the human condition almost any book would fit for this question but instead of a novel I am going to go with the work of a short story writer and that is of course none other than Alice Munro I don't think I've actually read any Alice Munro since joining book 2 but I've read the entirety of her selected short stories 1968 to 1994 along with a few others and she is just brilliant and what's incredible about her stories is they are quite narrow in scope they almost always follow a female character they almost always take place in a small town somewhere in Ontario or in the kind of Vancouver region and the conflict in her stories is almost small or domestic or provincial so to speak but even within these seemingly limited parameters she is able to distill these fundamental truths about the human heart that just knocked the wind out of you and one of my favorite examples of that is this line from one of her stories called Walker brothers cowboy where a girl of about 10 or 11 starts to realize that her father had a life before his children and that that life contains secrets and desires and disappointments that she will never fully understand I feel my father's life flowing back from our car in the last of the afternoon darkening and turning strange like a landscape that has an enchantment on it making it kindly ordinary and familiar while you are looking at it but changing it once your back is turned into something you will never know with all kinds of weathers and distances you cannot imagine and if that isn't the perfect description of the unknowability of other people I don't know what is next up is named a brilliant literary hybrid genre novel I have a few choices for this first I have normal people by Sally Rooney which I would contend is a romance novel almost to a t-bar the ending kind of and I have a full video explaining my thoughts on that and I stand by those thoughts and I also would say that one of the reasons I think that book is doing so well in selling so many copies is that it's basically a romance novel I would also say kindred by Octavia Butler which is a literary sci-fi novel with elements of historical fiction thrown in this was written in the 1970s and follows a black woman named Dana who is sent back to the antebellum South to save the life of her white slave-owning ancestor over and over again and lastly I don't know if sports novel is an actual genre but I would say that Indian horse by Richard Wagner Mies is a very literary sports novel not only does this book have some spectacular descriptions of the game of hockey that are just a thrill to read but it also looks at some pretty intense social issues namely the Canadian residential school system that was in place up through the 1990s and that separated indigenous children from their families and was designed to place them in an environment that would strip them of their culture and language and community and this book follows a boy who was placed in a residential school and it looks at the impact that has on his sense of identity and his relationship with Canada and with the sport of hockey which is a game that he loves but also a game that is very much a national sport that represents a lot of complicated and sometimes very ugly things and the last question is what genre do you wish was mixed with the literary fiction more and for this I would have to say romance not that there isn't a lot of high quality romance out there but I would love to have a little more literary romance in the vein of Sally Rooney something with just really spot-on dialogue social observations some swoon worthiness and maybe slightly more complicated or nuanced sources of conflict do you think that when Romeo or relationships are depicted in literary fiction it's often looking at complications and relationships or toxic relationships or the breakdown of a relationship which is all very interesting but I would definitely love to see more literary writers tackling the process of falling in love the thrill and dizziness of that experience because I for one love to read that stuff when it's really well done so would love to see more of it that's all the questions thanks so much to Jasmine for making this tag and for tagging me if you have responses to any of these questions I would love to hear them down in the comments below and in the meantime I am going to tag a few people Kazon at always doing Kelly at books I'm not reading Sara at hardcover hearts and Natalie at curious reader I would love to hear all of your answers to these questions as always thank you so much for watching and I'll see you next time bye

16 thoughts on “The Literary Fiction Book Tag

  1. Aha! A definition of literary fiction that makes the most sense 🙂 You've definitely got me interested in some new books I hadn't heard of.

    On a completely off-topic and extremely personal note, I noticed something about your jaw while you are speaking, the way it pulls to the right side continuously. I recognized it, as I had issues myself a few years ago. For me it was asymmetrical muscular tension that I'd probably had for ages before it started causing problems severe enough for me to seek help. You're younger than me so I sincerely hope you're not suffering anything like that, like migraines/TMJ/hearing issues. An ear nose and throat Dr would probably be a great place to start, but I'll admit I got the most immediate relief from my sports physiotherapist/chiropractor. I even had to do PT exercises for my face! LOL

    Anyway, I hope that this advice from a random stranger might be helpful. Have a wonderful day, and thank you for your wonderful, thoughtful videos!

  2. I'd be concerned about definitions that don't include thoughtful works. I'm less confident there's a universally accepted definition. The purpose should be to identify rather than to exclude. A turtle can be a Galapagos tortoise, Finding Nemo's testudines, or the snapper found in some southern pond. Mary Shelley is said to have written the first science fiction novel, but the term hadn't been invented yet, so … she didn't? Yes, for me Jane Eyre is clearly literary fiction. Germs existed before science discovered them; literary fiction existed before some PR whiz coined the term. Classics are not a genre, they're just old. There are classics that are SciFi, romance, adventure … & literary fiction. When someone says they're reading a classic we stereotype it to mean something deep, difficult, & serious — but it may be The Three Musketeers or Jules Verne. Some classics are pure entertainment. But are we really going to say that Woolf, Tolstoy, or Joyce aren't literary (since they're clearly fiction)?

  3. Thank you so much for the tag! These are such great questions. You've already stolen some of my answers – as soon as you mentioned structure I thought of Asymmetry, and what do you know. 😂

  4. Amazing job on the tag and really enjoyed it! I've seen two of these so far Marc Nash did one and the original by Jasmine Reads. I enjoyed you mixing in some modern books into it! I have the IDIOT and Asymmetry and will be looking to get to these pretty soon! I would like to recommend you pick up Where The Crawdads sing by Delia Owens it has strong elements of romance in it. I think you would enjoy it! Be Well 🙂

  5. Amazing video, as always! Just wanted to say that I TOTALLY agree with you about wanting to see more romance in literary fiction. Romantic love and all its concomitant joys and sorrows form such an integral component of what it means to be human and merit far more attention from literary writers than they currently get! There's just so much to unpack there, when you think about it — sex and sexuality (or the lack thereof), gender identity and expression, the complexities of interpersonal attraction and communication, etc. etc. Writers really be sleeping on love stories 😞

    Oh, also — LOVED your point about literary fiction's preoccupation with toxic relationships and the deterioration/dissolution of relationships. Seriously, whyyy are we losing our minds over all the ways romantic relationships can go wrong when the ways they can go right are every bit as fascinating (and arguably much more fun to read about)? If I want a HEA, I want a HEA, goddammit! I feel like a big reason literary authors tend to shy away from depicting successful, healthy relationships is our almost instinctual association of depth/dignity with darkness/gravity, hence our cultural privileging of tragedy over comedy (and indeed of "heavy" literary fiction over "light" genre fiction). But, like, when did we collectively decide that the negative aspects of the human condition are somehow intrinsically more interesting and worthy of serious consideration than are its positive aspects? Cuz, uhh, I know I didn't. If anything, I'd argue the opposite — it strikes me as far easier to write about miserable things than happy things, seeing as it's easier to BE miserable than happy. Buuuut I digress. My point is, MOAR LITERARY LOVE STORIES 💕

  6. The Idiot!! Munro!! Really, our answers are so similar here, I completely agree with all of your choices, in particular, that Munro quote was wonderful–I just found a copy of Selected Stories in a used book shop while traveling out of town! Any similar sense of Munro to me has been Carol Shields with The Stone Diaries, which I read recently and also loved. Normal People to me was a great extension and satisfaction for what I felt so drawn to with Selin and Ivan's relationship in The Idiot, so I would also love more work that pushes for the maturity of romance onto lit fic, for sure

  7. I love your glasses! I think I'm going to do this tag on my blog. Your definition of literary fiction was PERFECTION though, I'll find it hard to top that. All of the books you mentioned that I've read I also LOVED (with the exception of Asymmetry, alas). I'll try not to use the same answers, but Selin is THE BEST answer to that question. I'm still really looking forward to Villette! As for whether classics can be literary fiction – maybe they can be proto-literary fiction in the same way Jane Eyre is proto-feminist? I never know what to do with imposing contemporary labels on things from the past, even when the label fits perfectly.

  8. You SMASHED this. Thank you for doing it!!❤️ I loved hearing your answers. And you're so right about classics. A lot of them do meet the criteria for literary fiction (at least the criteria I go by). But I wouldn't call them literary fiction?? Weird. I'm very happy to see Normal People on this list, of course. Thank you again, Claire! xx

  9. I always want to read the books you discuss. Love your video as always! I think I will pick up The Idiot. Indian Horse is one of my favourite novels.

  10. Great discussion! Since this tag's been born, I've been thinking about the question of whether 19th-c classics are "literary." Tentatively thinking that they do have sufficient thematic heft that they approach the line, and perhaps those popular-in-their-day 19th-c novels that have disappeared lacked that element. But is that the same as an internal examination of the human condition? Hmm, often not, I suppose. Hardy, yes. Jane Eyre, yes. But they still don't depict thought and consciousness the way "literary" fiction since the Modernists has aimed to do. I think the beginning of the Modernist era is the line. Rewriting Jane Eyre in a later, more overtly literary style would be an interesting experiment (if possibly unreadable, lol). ETA: Literary fiction is driven by questioning, unknowing. Commercial fiction wants to tell us something it feels it knows, or reinforce essentially conventional wisdom. (Not that lit fic doesn't also frequently also function to prop up the status quo and oppressive systems as the same time it's exploring the human condition.)

  11. My immediate thought
    Genre fiction: Charles Dickens
    Literary fiction: Virginia Woolf
    I don't see how the time period is relevant if the description still fits. The name of the genre is only there for the purpose of classification, to simplify things for us.
    Every time I read Dickens I wish he wasn't so structured – if I wanted the emphasis on structure, I'd watch a movie. Novels, to me, are meant for delving deeper. I think it's literary fiction that can never quite be translated into film; movie adaptations of Jane Eyre, for one, have been attempted so many times, across decades, but have never really done the novel justice (in my humble opinion). Never managed to depict that true intensity, the human element, on screen (to clarify, I think Jane Eyre is basically a perfect mix of both genre and literary fiction, but the latter parts ((which are integral )) are almost impossible to capture on screen, which is why the written format will always be superior). Lol, now I feel like this is actually getting too labely; the perfect novel should be a mix of both, they are woven together – that's why Jane Eyre is one of the greatest of all time. You need both to have a good story! Literary fiction? Genre fiction? Those are just words!
    (And these are just my current thoughts, please don't kill me!)
    Edit: Actually, I can see what you mean now, about how the focus on the human condition may be a more modern style, especially because certain things would've been too taboo to talk about at the time, and that was why the Brontë sisters were seen as controversial figures back then. I can see why Dickens might've preferred to stay in his proverbial lane (lmfao), not rock the boat, secure his reputation, maintain a rather unemotional exterior. The Victorians were very uptight. Still, he's so plot focused it annoys me. I wanted to know how Oliver Twist was feeling !

  12. I love this tag and enjoyed listening to your well thought-out answers to each of the questions. If nobody tags me to do this, I might just go ahead and do it, anyway 😉

  13. Loved your answers for this tag! I find lit fic hybrids particularly interesting and will definitely check out Kindred 🙂

  14. I loved this. I have so many thoughts that I’m going to do this tag. I definitely agree about Sally Rooney’s book being a romance novel and a literary novel. And that’s definitely the reason it’s selling so well… I think some people are resistant to that because admitting it means they like the R word lol. Genre vs literary is something I really struggle with as someone who reads 50/50 both. Like why is the secret history a literary novel when at its core, it’s just a very well written thriller? How many books are there out there that are relegated to “thrillers” that are just as well written, well constructed and thematically nuanced as The Secret History? I think about stuff like that all the time. Because I agree with everything you said about literary fiction, and yet I see so many things that I think fit that definition that no one would probably classify as literary fiction. Anyway I loved the hell out of this video! I need to read the idiot ASAP… I’ve resisted it for so long. But hearing you talk about it today has broken down my walls lol. Happy reading 😊

  15. What a great summary of the meaning of literary fiction! I think I would classify some classic fiction as literary fiction (even if it was written before the classification literary fiction came into effect) because these writers were clearly writing with the parameters you discussed – caring about crafting a depiction of the human condition rather than focusing on the plot. So I think the term can be applied retrospectively to those books.

    Wonderful hearing about your thoughtful choices! And 😂 it's a romance novel… shhh!

    I'd also call The Art of Fielding a literary sports novel so I think sports novels are a thing.

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