The Top 5 Things I Hate To See In A Book: #5
This is the final entry (unless I think of #6) in a brief series of posts, in no particular order, about things I hate to see in a book. Like...
Awful people doing awful things
This describes most literary fiction. Which I mostly can't stand. Life is short - why spend it with awful people doing awful things? I really don't get the appeal.
I do like many of John Irving's books - one is even on my top 10 favorite novels list. (A SON OF THE CIRCUS) What sets Mr. Irving apart from other writers of literary fiction, in my opinion, is (a) he's funny and (b) he appreciates the small and large absurdities of life. This are two qualities I greatly prize in others, whether they are writers or not. Unfortunately, I rarely find them.
(Side note: Every time I think of the Absurdities of Life, I think of my mother's tiny hometown newspaper which she continued to subscribe to long after she'd left. [To be clear - the town was tiny. The newspaper was also small by my big city standards.] One story that made the front page involved lightning striking somebody's tomato plants, complete with a black and white photo of charred and shriveled tomatoes. We laughed FOR YEARS over that one - I'm still laughing now.) (Maybe you had to be there... Maybe you'd like to go read some literary fiction now.)
What the heck is literary fiction anyway? Some say there are two types of fiction: genre fiction (like mysteries, sci-fi, young adult, romance, fantasy, action, speculative fiction, etc.) and literary fiction - with the latter simply being anything that doesn't fit into a genre.
Others say literary fiction must have some merit that elevates it above the vast wasteland of most novels. Something that makes it NOT so appealing to a mass audience, like genre fiction sets out to be. Maybe it has to make some kind of statement about something important, like some big issue of the day or the human condition. (Isn't EVERY novel about the human condition? All of mine are - I just like to focus on Very Specific Humans while making rude comments about the rest of them.) Maybe to be literary fiction, it must be "fancy" in that it uses symbols or themes most of us pitiful boneheads could never hope to understand.
I don't care! I want to be entertained when I read, not trapped in a world of unlikeable people doing despicable things to each other. But millions of people read these kind of books. (I worry about them. A lot.) To me, literary fiction almost always lacks a sense of humor. I'm trying to think of a novel I liked that had ZERO humor in it... nope, it doesn't exist.
Apart from genre fiction and John Irving, I read a lot of the classics as well. I have often mentioned in this blog that I'm a big fan of Charles Dickens. (also a really funny dude) So please don't think that just because I eschew literary fiction, that I'm not looking for extraordinarily high quality books to read. I know they're out there... somewhere... it's tantalizing and frustrating to feel them just out of reach...
On a somewhat related note, I just ordered two books from Amazon, both by dead authors. Amazon invited me to follow those authors. You can follow dead people? Do they blog more often than I do? Man, I've got to ramp up my game.
Speaking of wildly successful genre writers, my Saturday quote today was from Agatha Christie, writing about Miss Marple's nephew, I think it was: "His books are about unpleasant people leading lives of surpassing dullness." Literary fiction - Dame Agatha got it!