Opinion Pieces / The Latest

Literary fiction and the ivory tower


This post is inspired by a podcast that I listened to recently from Book Riot podcast Dear Book Nerd Episode #3. The show talked about what is literary fiction and can it really be defined? As well as the fear of being judged for what you read. And while I believe there are no definitive answers to these questions, it should not stop us from discussing them.

I used the words ‘ivory tower’ in my title to explain how I feel literary fiction can and is perceived by many people. Literary fiction (whatever it actually is) is a mystical genre reserved for elite scholarly folk who wear tweed and sip brandy. If you don’t know what it is, then you’re not part of the club! And therefore crime fiction, chic lit., romance, YA lit., and graphic novels (to name a few) are for the poor lowly classes who wouldn’t know a good book if it hit them in face. And coming from an academic background, sometimes these stereotypes are not too far from the mark.

But what is literary fiction? According to Wiki literary fiction is:

… a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit.”

It’s also been defined as ‘serious literature’ and ‘non-mainstream literature’. But what does that actually mean? These terms and definitions placed on the so called genre seem to be personal preferences about what is ‘serious’ and what does or does not hold ‘literary merit’. And none of these definitions sit well with me.

I am not the first person to say that you shouldn’t worry about trying to impress someone with what you read. You are the person who has to read the book, no one else. Read what you love. I’ve been told by many people that my reading habits are dusty and unexciting at times, but I am the person who reads those books. And if I like them, then that’s all that matters.

I also think that times are slowly changing. With the emergence of so many book blogs and websites dedicated to reading and writing more and more people are talking about books from every genre, language, and corner of the world. I’ve seen a slow shift in academia as well, where more and more literary critics are putting down Dickens and picking up Anita Heiss. Things are only going to get better!

So, if we can’t really put a definition on literary fiction then why do we care so much about what it is and whether we’re reading it or not? And to be honest, I’m not really sure that it matters. People draw different meanings from the books that they read. Sometimes your interpretation of a book can be as unique as a fingerprint and that isn’t a bad thing. That is the beauty of the story.

Do you believe in a literary ivory tower? What do you think about literary fiction in relation to other genres? Do you care about what other people think about your book collection?

Happy reading!

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One thought on “Literary fiction and the ivory tower

  1. Pingback: The Stigma of Readers: nerd, uncool. | bound2books

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