Thursday, September 2, 2010

Literary Fiction Is From Mars; Commercial Fiction Is From Venus

It's always perplexed me why books written by women authors about family and relationships are often classified as commercial fiction or chick lit while books written by men on the same topics often get literary fiction status.  Not sure why that is but it's made for lively discussions with my writer friends and book lovers alike.

A recent interview with bestselling authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner highlighted this issue.  What started out, I think, as a basic complaint about why commercial fiction is not more widely reviewed (if at all) in mainstream publications like the New York Times turned into a much broader discussion about women's fiction and the role gender plays in literary criticism.  Very timely.  And perhaps long overdue.

Fair or not?  What do you think?


Joanna St. James said...

I think this has been blown out of proportion and definitely misunderstood. These ladies are famous and have used their voices to speak out on our behalf. They have nothing against Franzen (oops spelling) but critics are trying to turn this away from the main issue.

Francine Howarth said...


To get to the crux at issue one has to check out the critics: how many are women Vs male! If more male critics exist within the world of newspapers that might account for dumbing-down on womens' fiction.

After all Harlequin Mills & Boon books are well written but most certainly few of the books could be categorized as literary in content. Whereas, a lot of Avon/Harper Collins Romance/Womens' fiction does pass muster on literary content, except Danielle Steel.

As for the "literary" debate: it's basically a snobbery thing! Stephen King's work is literate but is still that of mass market fiction status, same as many other male writers.


Maria Zannini said...

It is what it is, but I have a feeling that bastion of what is considered 'literary' is on teetering legs.

How many people really care about the NYT anymore--I mean, aside from authors and their agents?

It's a feather for us, but one made of smoke.

As a reader, it means nothing to me. But maybe I'm in a minority.

Will a review in the NYT encourage you to buy the book?

Talli Roland said...

Nothing gets me going like literary snobs. I agree with Francine - Mills&Boon are very well written yet for the most part slated. Same with chick lit. But if these were written by males, they'd be haled as the next Cathcher in the Rye or somesuch.


Liz Fichera said...

Thanks for the great comments and insight, ladies!

I don't feel very hopeful that this will change anytime soon. It is what it is. That said, I don't read a book because it's literary or commercial. I read (and like/love) a book that takes me away.

Still, as Talli pointed out, it's frustrating that the same book written by a guy gets a serious book cover and Catcher in the Rye status while a similar story written by a woman is given a pink cover and called commercial fiction.

I thought the interview with Weiner and Picoult was very interesting and timely. Hope you did too. Although it raises awareness, I doubt anything will change. That doesn't stop me from writing, though. :-) In fact, it makes me write harder.

Marianne Arkins said...

I'll be honest ... when something is referred to as "literary fiction" I tend to avoid it. It's frequently dark and depressing as though you can't be happy and intelligent at the same time.


Liz Fichera said...

Hi Marianne!

I'm reading one of those at the moment (I'll review it on goodreads next week, btw). Anyway, a lot more "telling"; not a whole lot of "showing." It's good but, I swear, if a woman had written it, it'd be packaged in pink and green and called chick lit!

catdownunder said...

Miaou? Purrowling in from the blog party...I try to judge books by their content but I admit it is sometimes difficult to get past the packaging!

Liz Fichera said...

Hi Catdownunder,

Thanks for stopping by! My BBQ post is now up. :-)