Literary Fiction vs. Popular Fiction: Bring on the War!
by Naomi Rawlings
I am admittedly, unashamedly a popular fiction fan. When I was in junior high and high school, I spent a good portion of my summers reading any and all Christian romance novels I could get my hands on. As that was in the 1990’s (hopefully that fact doesn’t make me seem too old), there wasn’t a very wide selection of inspirational romance authors available, but I remember reading Lori Wick, Gilbert Morris, and Janette Oke.
Then I went off to college and decided to major in English Education. Now I’ll admit I had been assigned to read some classic novels in high school, such as Pride and Prejudice, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Great Expectations. But I had no idea what I was getting into with my English major.
No longer was I reading those sweet, feel-good love stories that I enjoyed so much. Oh no, I was thrust into the world of literary fiction, and what an abysmal, depressing world it was! I remember being given a six point list on what makes a book a classic. I’m sure this list contained traits like erudite prose and lasting themes and a whole other slew of supposedly important items, but I can some up the literary fiction pretty easily: It is usually depressing, and someone often dies. And this dying doesn’t commence quickly, but rather goes on and on, as the main character makes worse and worse choices.
Take for example, Call of the Wild by Jack London. Humanity would have been spared endless agonizing pages had London simply killed the main character in the first chapter. I mean, London accomplished this with his short story, ‘To Build a Fire’ so why write something so long that accomplished the same purpose? The most depressing novel I remember reading was McTeague by Frank Norris. Who wants to read a story about a husband who kills his wife and then his best friend? Ugh!
So after four years of reading classics, I graduated from college and refused to pick up a book for over a year. Actually, it was closer to two years before I started reading again, because all those classics with their deep social themes and morality tales had made me forget that reading could be fun.
When I did start reading again, I found a book lying around my grandma’s house and was immediately sucked back into the world of romance novels. I loved the book, reading it in less than a day, and continued to read at that pace until I’d exhausted all my friends’ libraries.
|Counte of Monte Crisco|
Watch the movie!
As I read more and more, I’d decided to write my own novel. And then I was faced with a choice. Did I try to write those layered social stories called literary fiction that were so esteemed in my college English classes? Or did I write something fun yet meaningful, a story that would allow the reader to set aside his or her own troubles and escape into another time and place for a few hours.
This was four years ago, and now my debut novel (an enjoyable romance story) Sanctuary for a Lady has released. At the same time, my book club decided to read The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. This is the first literary fiction novel I’ve read since being assigned them in college, and do you know what? I still dislike literary fiction now as much as I did back then, probably even more so. When I finally closed the book, I thought, What a wretched story. I am never reading another Steinbeck novel for as long as I live.
But I admit that I read for pleasure, not for intellectual gain or satisfaction. Several of my book club members enjoyed the novel. Interestingly enough, these same individuals frown on the “escapist popular fiction” that I love so much.
So now I’m curious about you . . .
Do you prefer literary fiction, or popular fiction? Why?
Have you ever read a classic novel or literary fiction novel on your own, without it being assigned? Which novel did you choose, and did you enjoy it?
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