Why Is Litfic So Unpopular?~~by Akje Majdanek

Let me say it now: there’s nothing wrong with lightweight, quick, easy beach reads. Who wants to read a ponderous tome like War and Peace on the beach? You want something easy to digest.

But there’s a pandemic raging out there right now and no one can go to the beach. Everyone’s complaining that they’re bored out of their minds with plenty of free time lately and nothing to do, and yet litfic still can’t get a break.

This is sad since it’s so good for you. According to Examined Existence, reading literary fiction can:

● increase your empathy
● sharpen your consciousness
● improve your brain
● protect you from Alzheimer’s
● give you insight into society

Reading reportedly increases our neural pathways and offers us mental simulations of events we’d never get to experience otherwise. I know for a fact it increases empathy. If you don’t believe me, then read Lincoln in the Bardo and tell me you didn’t feel sorry for the ghosts by the end.

Odds are you won’t read Lincoln in the Bardo. Whenever someone comes out with another list of the Best Books of All Time or The 1000 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Die, most people have read fewer than twenty. Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan have a hard time competing with Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James. So how come litfic’s so unpopular?

Does anyone even know just what literary fiction is? For the last few days, Bookbub has been advertising an Anna Todd novel as literary fiction.

No, really. I couldn’t make that up.

I think it’s the old belief that literary fiction is any book that focuses on character instead of plot, or any book that can’t be classified under a specific genre. Nope, there’s more to litfic than that.

Firstly, literary fiction isn’t the opposite of genre fiction. Litfic comes in as many genres as commercial fiction. The difference is the depth. Litfic novels should have literary merit, or shall we say “a value as art”. They should have gorgeous prose, heavy themes, and evoke an emotional response. There are no formulas in litfic, no tropes─anything goes, and experimental language or structure is encouraged. Ambiguous endings are common, but the one thing every literary novel should do is tell you something about the human condition and the world we live in. Should litfic novels be entertaining? Of course! But it’s possible to be entertaining and still say something important.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with commercial fiction. In the first place, it sells! Give a book a Pulitzer, Booker or Nobel prize and you can be sure it won’t be read. Commercial fiction is fun to read, usually more plot-based and escapist. Commercial fiction’s rarely as dense or challenging as litfic, and the ending is normally known ahead of time. The detective always figures out who dunnit by the end of a mystery, the hero always gets the girl in a romance novel, and the sheriff has caught the cattle rustlers before the last page of a Western. What’s not to like? There’s a certain comfort in the predictability. If you like one Western, you’re bound to like them all.

A middle road option gaining popularity lately is upmarket fiction, a hybrid of literary and commercial fiction. Upmarket has all the accessibility of commercial fiction, but more depth and unpredictability like literary fiction. Also known as “Book Club Fiction”, it usually has a great hook and a focus on plot and conflict like commercial fiction, but the writing style is more like literary fiction, and it has more of a message than commercial fiction.

Examples of upmarket fiction:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Examples of literary fiction:

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Examples of commercial fiction:

■ anything by Stephen King
■ anything by Danielle Steele
■ anything by Dan Brown
■ anything by Robyn Carr
■ anything by Patricia Cornwell
■ anything by Kristen Callihan

I don’t know why litfic is so unpopular; I only know it’s damned hard to write. I’ve been trying for years and haven’t succeeded yet. But I’m going to keep trying, and I’m going to keep reading it. Why? Quite frankly, there are relatively few of those 1000 books you need to read that have disappointed me. (ღ˘ᴗ˘ღ) ❣애! ❤

About Akje Majdanek

Remember the books you had to read back in high school and college? Books like Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye, Anna Karenina, The Crucible, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Jane Eyre and a hundred other deep, profound, thought-provoking reads? And remember how you said, “My gawd, those were the most boring books I’ve ever read in my life. I swear I’ll never read anything with literary merit ever again. From now on it’s nothing but sparkly vampires for me!”

Remember that? So who’s writing brilliant stuff like that today? Who’s writing the books that future students will complain about in the universities of tomorrow?

Akje has no idea, but she’d love to find that author, buy him a bottle of Beam and plagiarize all his work. (#^.^#)



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