Is it literary? Is it readable?

They warned me not to call my novels literary when querying agents or publishers. Literary is in the eye of the expert, they said. Literary sounds like you don't think it will sell. Literary narrows the audience. But I love literary fiction!

I read recently that literary writing really doesn't sell, and the authors, for the most part, rely on (sadly decreasing) sponsorship. And yet, if a book is described as literary, I will almost certainly pick it up and look at it. Will I buy it? That probably depends on the story grabbing me too, and the random page I turn to in the middle to look at the writing. But literary catches my eye. Does it catch yours?

Nancy Freund Bill's memoir, The Red Ribbon, might well be described as literary, and rightly so. The writing is clear, evocative, and down to earth. The terror--death by lightning strike--is all too vivid and real. Yet the author draws readers into the aftermath without pathos, inviting us to walk a path, see paths not taken, and learn how someone moves on. Customs, culture, regrets and promises are all here, very cleverly ordered through almost-essays that move forward and back through time almost seamlessly. Find some well-balanced three-star coffee and enjoy a wonderful read.

Another enjoyable book, this one lying smoothly in that space between literary and romance, is The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It's clearly a romance, in that there are two possibly romantic entanglements looming, and a reasonable certainly in the reader that one will work out. But it's also literary, splitting its tale between the second world war and the life of a fiercely independent woman 30 years later. And it's mystery--who is the beautiful boy? And it's beautifully evocative with gorgeous depictions of Italian food and scenery interspersed with terrifying horror of world war suffering. Oh, and it's a good read to enjoy with some more well-balanced three-star coffee.

Literary fiction can include short stories too--and maybe even short shorts. Another book I've borrowed recently is Loud Sparrows: contemporary Chinese short-shorts, and I love it. From thought-provoking snippets to haunting full-grown stories, all elegantly written and beautiful ordered and selected, it's a collection that managed to keep you reading rather than disorienting you with difference. And it's fascinating. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

Finally, there's Michael Mortenson's short story, Three Minutes, which takes little longer than three minutes to read, and offers a fascinating depiction of what can happen in so short a time--and the power of short-spun prayer. Well-balanced three-star coffee to go with this one...

All literary, in my book anyway, and all great reads.


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