Thursday, November 22, 2007

A good book is a good book...

While talking to a newly formed book club in Nebraska last
night (my first chat with a group in that State; thanks, guys) three people asked if I could describe the difference between literary versus commercial fiction, and another asked what I personally preferred to read?

Simply put, literary fiction draws you in with language, imagery, character insight and sense of place whereas commercial fiction focuses more on narrative and plot. Literary fiction is also more tolerant of digression. If the story reveals something about the character, the pages are worth it. Also, the likability of characters isn't as required as commercial pieces.

Some well known commercial fiction authors would be John Grisham, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts. They rarely win prizes and aren't often reviewed, yet these authors do well financially as millions of readers regularly snatch up their books.

When it comes to personal preference, I'll read anything. Essentially, here's my strategy: If a book draws me in, I’ll keep reading. If it has a good story, I’ll finish it. If my mind wanders, I’ll put it down and find something better to do, and I usually won't pick it up again.

Of course, this is said from the reading side of my brain (a good book is a good book & all that jazz) while the writing side, fresh off months of hard work trying to create an unputdownable commercial piece, elbows me with a terse, Easier said than done, hotshot!

11 comments:

Victoria said...

"If a book draws me in, I’ll keep reading."

That describes me to a T. A book has to catch my attention in the first ten pgs or I can't be bothered. Got too many more in my pile waiting!

M. G. Tarquini said...

Great definition. Mine is simpler. Literary fiction is when I get to page 30 and think, 'Very pretty prose, but what exactly is this book ABOUT?'

kyla-dale said...

Oooooh, I like that: Easier said than done.

Thank heavens someone else recognizes this, even if she is published. Writing a piece of fiction (any kind) that manages to get sold and published is tough stuff!!!

Ramona said...

See, I've always believed literary fiction is LITTER + AIRY = Snob-assed intellectual crap no one every buys. My opinion only.

Ramona said...

I meant no one EVER buys.
Typo!!

ORION said...

To describe something as "Literary" or "Commercial" appears to be uniquely American - there was an interesting article in the UK Guardian about this propensity a few years back. I'm with Holly - A book's got to keep me interested.
I love reading wonderful language but when I get to the end of the sentence and have to ask "that was beautiful but what did it mean?" well...that's pretty much when I put the book down.
Interestingly enough judging whether something is literary or not seems to come more from writers than readers...

Adam said...

Much of the literary fiction I've read is like ordering a hamburger but only getting the bun -- I end up tossing it down thinking, Where the %*!$#? is the beef? It has to have some story to it, or don't expect me to read it.

wordman17 said...

What he said (above).
Need. the. beef.

Nadine said...

I'm a huge reader. I loved The Tin Box so much I got The Penny Tree and now I cannot wait for Silver Compass!! I hope you continue writing stories like these.

P.S. I like a book that entertains me. Most of the literary books I've read don't do the job (not all of them, but most)

Therese said...

I'm with you. All that matters is a good story, told in a way that keeps the reader engaged.

IMO, Lit fic is best thought of as just one more genre, rather than a quality standard or as the opposite of commercial fiction. Many literary works are also huge commercial successes, making them de facto "commercial."

CodeNameNora said...

Now when literary fiction is married to a great plot, such as in the books Cold Mountain and the Historian, to name just two examples, that makes my pulses pound.