Armchair BEA: Literary Fiction

There is no definitive definition of literary fiction. It’s a bit like porn: hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Ha! Not really, but close.

Sam over at Tiny Library offered a wonderfully concise definition of literary fiction. She writes that literary fiction, “can come from any genre but it has to impress with beautiful writing in addition to a good story. Sometimes in literary fiction the story can take a back-seat and you get more introspective, character driven novels.”

Three of my top literary fiction writers are: 

Conroy is a delightful man in person.

1. Pat Conroy: He can get a little purple in his prose at times, but I think I love him more because of it. The Great Santini and The Lords of Discipline are two of my favorite novels. Beach Music and The Prince of Tides are great novels to start with if you haven’t read anything by Conroy yet. Also check out My Reading Life which is a collection of love letters to books and other readers who impacted Conroy’s life masquerading as essays. He has a new memoir coming out in October, The Death of Santini.

2. Jhumpa Lahiri: In the past I wasn’t much of a short story reader but I very much enjoyed her two short story collections, Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth. However, what I love most is her novel, The Namesake. Lahiri has a new novel coming out in September, The Lowland.

3. Sarah Waters: Such a great writer. I could read her writing about paint drying. I love her sentences, her ability to create atmosphere and emotion, and her characters are exquisite. My favorite is Tipping the Velvet and my least favorite is Affinity, yet I read it twice. Nan King, the main character in Tipping, is perhaps my favorite character in all of contemporary fiction.

Two literary fiction writers I plan on reading soon:

Last year at the Iowa City Book Festival I went to a joint reading by Dean Bakopoulos and Patrick Somerville. I’d never heard of either writer, but my friend Cayt had, and I was curious and tagged along. I enjoyed hearing each writer read from his current book and loved the way they talked about their writing and their literary friendship. I ended up buying Bakopoulos’s My American Unhappiness and Somerville’s The Cradle. I haven’t read either book yet, but they’re on my TBR pile, so stay tuned!

Bakopoulos and Somerville, Iowa City, 2012


  1. Best beginning to a blog post ever…”There is no definitive definition of literary fiction. It's a bit like porn: hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Ha! Not really, but close.” Brilliant! I'm a fan of Conroy as well 🙂

  2. I have read a couple of Sarah Waters (creepy) books. Very much enjoy her writing, but I can't say I read a LOT of literary works. Nice to meet you!

  3. Ha ha!! Thank you for the biggest laugh of my day! It is like porn isn't it? That's going to have me laughing for the rest of the evening.

  4. this is probably the best definition of the day, lol. thanks for sharing, need to read Sarah Waters

  5. Jhumpa Lahiri is on my to read list as well! And your definition of literary fiction is hilarious and memorable. I wasn't sure what it meant before but now I have a way to remember it! 🙂 Glad to meet you Chris.

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