What makes fiction literary?

When Shelfari closed and Goodreads absorbed its reviews, I found myself landed with tons of new shelves on my Goodreads page. Every tag was now a permanent link between (some of the) books I'd read. And the books I'd so carefully shelved before were now scattered among the morass.

One tag I'd used on Shelfari but not Goodreads was "literary," which got me wondering, what did I mean when labeled a book that way. Is all writing literature? Do the books I labeled literary somehow have more literary merit? Or maybe it's lit if it's character driven and just fiction otherwise? Which then begs the other question, what is "just fiction"?

I remember when I was growing up, I graduated from the children's to the adult library, aged around 10, and delighted in those yellow backed Golancz science fiction novels. My granddad read James Bond adventures and Westerns, so of course I read all of those too. Mum and Dad had library books hidden under the bed--I devoured them while supposedly "helping" with the cleaning. I remember delighting in one of Mum's borrowed tomes, a tale about a farmer striving to conquer (i.e. plant crops on) the top of a hill--I can't remember what it was called, but I'd love to read it again... So maybe that's what would make a book literary...

Okay, there were Golancz science fiction books I long to read again too--that one where dead bodies were "rescued" from the past and given to dying people in the present, except the person wasn't quite dead, and neither was the guy he ran his car into... Is that lit?

And there was a novel called "Oil" on Dad's side of the bed. I was amazed to recognize parts of the story when it became a movie. Probably literary.

My Gran read pink magazines instead of books. Why were they pink? I'll never know. Mum had a blue one filled with Scottish tales later. Their stories were the same as the romances I read today on kindle--easily read, easily forgotten, easily demanding I find some more to devour--temptation like twinkies instead of a well-remembered feast at a restaurant? Is that the difference?

I'll file some of these book reviews under "literary" when I post them today. Some of the stories are seriously memorable. But where would you file them? Find a coffee, find a seat and enjoy.

First on my list is Falling Into The Mob by Steve Zousmer, a crazy, zany, exciting, intriguing tale that somehow manages to keep offering more than the reader expects. From a wonderful introduction to a 59-year-old narrator running for a train, so the happenstance of speechwriter turned mobster's friend or foe and police target, to unexpected romance, to epic battles on an everyday street, to... It's just great fun, and greatly satisfying, a veritable literary feast. Enjoy with some elegant well-balanced four-star coffee, but keep the odd cup of dark five-star brew to hand -- it has some gritty scenes and it's surely not fluff.

A Small Saving Grace by G. Davies Jandrey is definitely literature too. It's filled with fascinating characters--gay, trans, Christian, Buddhist, young, old, safe, strange and everything in between. Writing from multiple points of view, the author gives voice to a growing awareness that we're all valuable people, even the ones who hurt us. And grace is in the knowing. The story is is simultaneously dark and light, built on a cruel crime but built around wonderful characters, and giving a convincing portrayal of life after family disaster. It's a truly memorable tale, to be enjoyed with truly elegant four-star coffee.

Walt Socha's Conflict reads just as smoothly as the previous two books, though it's theme is radically different. Blending Western historical fiction with modern time-travel, adding a wealth of knowledge with a superbly gentle touch, plus some complex romance, and inviting the reader into a growing understanding of cultural mores, cruel lives and equally cruel hopes, it's a superbly swift well-balanced read, exciting in its battle scenes, introspective in its myth and mystery, complex in its relationships, and thoroughly intriguing. The story's complete by the end, but it's the first of a series and I'd love to read more, accompanied by nicely complex four-star coffee of course.

Jean Harkin's collection of short stories, Night In Alcatraz and other uncanny tales has a literary feel too, inviting the reader into intriguing places under strange disguises--visit Alcatraz when sent to jail in Monopoly, walk through Indian history and lose a locket, or wander a forest where you might find a stranger; watch  cows stampede a political gathering, dress for Halloween, and enjoy, with some well-balanced, smooth-flavored three-star coffee.

Devil’s Spring by Aaron Paul Lazar combines family drama, suspense, a touch of romance, and hints of mystery to make an enticing third entry in his Bittersweet Hollow series. Characters change and grow throughout this series, but each novel stands alone with just the right amount of background, foreground and future. In this story, sickness, kidnapping, and accidental murder are handled with a light enough touch to keep the story flowing and hope growing, in spite of everything. It's an enjoyable read, definitely character driven, possibly literary... and it goes well with a well-balanced three-star coffee.


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