Armchair BEA: Literary Fiction

And for today’s Armchair BEA topic: Literary Fiction — how do you define it? What are some great examples?

While I’m tempted to give the same answer as I did for definining classics — “I know it when I see it” — I’ll try to actually say a bit more. For me, when I think of literary fiction, I think of books in which the language itself is a key piece of the reading experience. Interesting or unusual word choices, lyrical phrasing, thoughtful use of symbolism, a unique approach to sentence structure — these are all elements that elevate a book for me into the realm of literature. On top of the language itself is the subject matter and how it’s presented. Literary fiction can have any topic, any setting, any type of character — but should have more going on in it than heavy action or a pulse-pounding plot. Literary fiction makes me think about what I’m reading — not just in terms of “what will happen next?” — but really think about the deeper meaning of events and choices, the way the characters express themselves, the signs and symbols that might add another layer to the plot itself. Finally, I tend to equate literary fiction with beauty, especially in terms of beautiful writing and beautiful descriptions.

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years that I would consider literary fiction are:

  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  • Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  • Doc by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Another part of today’s prompt from the Armchair BEA organizers is:

Name a novel that hasn’t received a lot of buzz that definitely deserves it.

I think I’ll switch that up a bit and mention an author who deserves much more attention than I think she gets, and that’s Mary Doria Russell, author of five amazing novels (so far!), on topics ranging from space exploration to WWII to the old West to Lawrence of Arabia. What makes each and every one of her novels a literary masterpiece, in my mind, is her incredible talent for choosing just the right words to express a feeling, a mood, a setting, an emotion. Her writing is beautiful and never fails to just slay me; in fact, I wrote a post about the emotional impact her book The Sparrow had on me when I reread it last year.

So, literary fiction. How do you define it? Are you a fan? And what are your favorites?

Thanks for stopping by! Don’t miss my giveaway today, ending soon!


12 thoughts on “Armchair BEA: Literary Fiction

  1. I said the same thing in my post… these books make you think! The books you list I’ve never heard of! Must add to my pile! I do agree with the impact of The Sparrow. Wow, what a book!

    • MDR is just gold, not matter what she’s writing about. The Sparrow is pretty much my favorite book ever. A Thread of Grace was incredible. And I didn’t expect to be interested in Doc (a Western?? For me??), but her writing just hooked me in. Amazing. I hope you enjoy The Snow Child too!

    • Oh good! Please let me know what you think of it! I’m so happy to be meeting other MDR fans — we’re obviously a bunch with great taste!

      • yes we are, lol. I’m amazed at how good she can be at different genres. I read every novel of hers, all so good, sci-fi or HF, or literary fiction. can’t wait for next one, more focused on OK corral, as some of her readers were frustrated she didn’t talk that much about it in Doc

        • Yup. I even ended up writing a whole post about what I’d expected reading Doc and realizing my expectations were wrong! (She does say right in the first paragraph that Doc had “one season of happiness” — I may be remembering the quote wrong — and I realized toward the end of the book that that’s what this book would cover, just the one year and not the OK Corral. Can’t wait for the next).

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