Monday, August 10, 2009

Literary Fiction vs Contemporary Fiction

So yesterday I found myself very frustrated with some life issues and really couldn't concentrate enough to read (which meant I had to miss the mystery read-a-thon --- darn it!!). While I needed to mull over the problem and come to some kind of resolution, I also wanted to do some kind of mindless activity. Adding labels to my blog posts fit the bill (I know, I live a very exciting life). I have wanted to do this for quite some time as I think it will make it easier for me to find previous postings, and hopefully it will aid new visitors to my blog to delve into posts that may interest them.

Now, adding labels is not as easy as one might initially think. At first I just created the label "Book Reviews" but then quickly decided that if I plan to maintain this blog over a long period of time (and that is the plan ..... at least for now) then I may want to segment that category further. So, I modified the label to "Book Reviews 2009". Not a major intellectual decision, I must admit, but I do think it was necessary. After labeling about 50 posts, however, I quickly realized that each review should probably have a double entry: one for the year in which it was reviewed, and one for the genre of book. This would make finding reviews MUCH easier. Ok - good decision, Molly. Now, what will the genre categories look like? I don't want to have the categories too specific, at least for now, so all mystery, thriller, suspense type books are currently filed under the Mystery label. All books that are found in the Young Adult section of the bookstore are filed under YA. No biggie.

BUT.....what about the vast number of general fiction books that I read? I read a fair number of classics for academic endeavors as well as personal pleasure. I also read a fair number of current "best sellers" (for lack of a better word) because so many great reviews are written on blogs that I feel I must read the book right away to be a part of the blogging buzz. Many of these books are GREAT novels, but what is the defining line between "literary" fiction and "contemporary" fiction? For my purposes I made this distinction: if the book is a classic, and/or if it is frequently taught in an academic setting, and/or it has won a literary prize for fiction --- then I deemed it "literary". If it is just a great, modern-day book, but did not make the cut as listed above, then I simply labeled it "contemporary" fiction.

Now granted, there was no scientific reasoning behind my labeling. This was purely personal randomness. So I ask you: what do you think is the dividing line between literary fiction vs contemporary fiction? you even think such a line exists? I am very interested in hearing your comments, and realize that I may need to make some changes to the current labeling of posts based on your opinions.


  1. I have this problem on my blog too. I started labelling YA books, Sci-Fi, Thriller etc, but then realised there would be 100s of fiction books, so don't label them.

    I think literary fiction is very hard to classify in some cases. Just go with your first instinct - good luck!

  2. Great question Molly! Being new I have no answer but was wondering something similar today: does one label EVERY post or just the ones you think deserve a label?

    Jackie - liked your genre breakdowns, especially chunkster & really old classics :)

    Looking forward to seeing everyone's respones!

  3. I have general categories of fiction, nonfiction, and creative nonfiction, and then I tag things accordingly within those groups.

  4. I think your solution is a very reasonable one. That's tough call; hadn't thought of it yet myself. Oh, now my head is spinning....

  5. I think you hit on a good approach, and if I used genre labels for my reviews, I would probably use similar criteria for fiction that didn't fit a particular genre (which is most of the fiction I read, really).

  6. I think there is a line between literary fiction and non-literary fiction, although I don't think the division between literary fiction and contemporary fiction works. There is a lot of contemporary fiction, which to my mind is also literary fiction. For me the difference is to do with the care and crafting that has gone into the writing. With something that I would deem literary fiction every word will have been scrutinized to make sure that it does the job the writer wants it to do. Have you read Anne Michaels' two novels, 'Fugitive Pieces' and 'The Winter Vault'? Now they are what I would call literary fiction, but the latter was only published a couple of months ago.

  7. I ran into that problem with my giveaways post on Sundays. I decided to just go with the genres (lumping several conveniently together!) and then the unimaginative but entirely accurate "All Other Fiction" :)

  8. It's a terrible problem you descirbed! I wish very much I could figure out the mystery/suspense/thriller distinction but have given up. I will look forward to any solutions you come up with for the contemporary and literary fiction division!

  9. While I don't have a brainy answer for you, I will confess that I hate all the labels I have and wish I could just consolidate them more--I have too many putzy ones...sigh...but no time for that right now.

  10. Have you done an author label too? That's one label I do use consistently but it is Author A-E, Author F-L, Author M-r and S-Z. The literary and contemporary fiction is a fine line and I'm not sure how I would label them either. Keep us posted as to what you think is a good method.

  11. Jackie and Belle and Kim: I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one who suffers from this dilemma :) Thanks for the words of encouragement!

    Mel: I don't think there is a mandate to label every post -- it is what you want :) To that end, I did label every post in order to help me review what I have written; not that I think the reader cares to read every post I have written. Hope that makes sense.

    JT: I think I may do that form of labeling as I continue with blogging. For right now it seemed like "overkill" for 35 book reviews -- but perhaps after a couple of years' worth of reviews, I would like to segment further.

    Lit and Life: Sorry for the spinning head syndrome, it is a perpetual state of mind for me :)

    Florinda: Thanks for the support! and I want to mention again how much I could resonate with your "catch-22" comment you made on Musing of a Bookish Kitty blog (those who haven't read it --- you simply must check it out!)

    Table Talk: I absolutely agree that some contemporary fiction is also qualified to be labeled Literary fiction, and I debated doing that. But then I thought that it would be even more subjective what I labeled literary due to writing style, etc vs what others might describe as literary. I try to address these issues in my review, however, without worrying about the label.

    Rhapsody: I may eventually go with subgenres within the larger category of mysteries - especially since I tend to read those quite a bit.

    Kaye: I did consider adding a author grouping as well and I think I you are right: it would be helpful for readers as well as for me. It looks like I found my blog homework assignment for the week :)

  12. That's a tough question! I don't think I make much of a distinction between "contemporary" and "literary". In fact, I've noticed a lot of readers use the term "contemporary literary fiction". For me, there's "literary fiction" and "genre fiction" (and both have many sub-categories!). HTH!

  13. First of all, thanks for another thoughtful post. The division between literary and contemporary fiction can be very subtle. I adopt the definition derived from reading in my graduate course. Contemporary literature is almost synonymous to post-20th century literature, while contemporary fiction could be anything published today. To me some examples of contemporary literature would be The Great Gatsby, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, whereas contemporary fiction could be any chick lit. But one might also distinguish between "literature" and "fiction". I see literature as being a subset of fiction that concerns literary values, historical aspects, and moral and human condition. My latest bafflement is "literary thriller." The terms implies that it is a hybrid of literature and mystery. Anyone has an idea?

  14. Matt - 2666 is a great example of a literary thriller. I think Blindness probably classifies as one too. I love them - so will try to find some more for you.

  15. I've struggled with this myself!!!!!!!!! I'm going to read your comments to find out what others said.


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