Often, as readers, we have a tendency to get stuck in a rut, reading the same genres and authors that we always read.
While it’s fun to read what you love, and I would never bash anyone for playing favorites, a big part of the joy of reading is exposing yourself to something that you might not have experienced otherwise. That’s part of the reason we offer these getting-started guides to different genres!
Today we’re looking at Literary Fiction.
As a genre, I find Literary Fiction a little odd. It’s a genre created essentially to separate “fictional works that hold literary merit” from “popular” fiction. And if that doesn’t sound highly subjective, you’ve missed something.
Often, Literary Fiction tends to be slower paced than it’s counterpart, Genre Fiction (think mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction). These books also tend to tackle “serious” topics – delving into social commentary, political critisism, and exploring the human condition. Not that a science fiction novel can’t. They’ve just drawn some arbitrary lines here in the publishing world.
Reading Literary Fiction can be sometimes feel like you’re back in school, as these books tend to be the ones that make it into academic study. But just because they might be more academic-y does not mean that they aren’t enjoyable! It’s just a different reading experience.
Here are some great pieces to start from!
1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love–and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
2. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.
Universally acclaimed upon publication, Life of Pi is a modern classic.
3. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.
Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.
4. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.
5. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. In the opening sequence, a band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts.
Among the hostages are not only Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, the American soprano, but an assortment of Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Reuben Iglesias, the diminutive and gracious vice president, quickly gets sideways of the kidnappers, who have no interest in him whatsoever. Meanwhile, a Swiss Red Cross negotiator named Joachim Messner is roped into service while vacationing. He comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands, and the days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months.
6. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby follows a cast of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan.
Even if you read this one in school, it’s worth a re-read from a different perspective. You’ll be surprised what you pick up.
8. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
They are an unlikely pair: George is “small and quick and dark of face”; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a “family,” clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.
Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.
9. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….
10. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to stake his claim in New Zealand’s booming gold rush. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: a wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous cache of gold has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.