Anyway, around a year ago I was in a bookshop in Sligo (north-west Ireland, very nice place if anyone is thinking of visiting) with my mum. At the time I practically read nothing but fantasy and science fiction, with the occasional YA thrown in. I periodically picked up a literary fiction novel but I generally avoided that sort of stuff, and anything that wasn't genre fiction really, because I thought it was all boring and pretentious. However my mum thought that it might be a good idea to read something else, she wanted me to 'broaden my horizons". Naturally I thought this was her trying to force me to stop reading the genres I love. So anyway here we were in this bookshop. My mum picked up a copy of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I didn't want to buy it, but eventually I gave in. I knew from the moment I purchased it that it was a mistake. It was dumb, pretentious crap for people who thought they were smart. I knew I'd hate it. So dutifully Catch-22 sat on my bookshelf for months on end. I looked at it regretfully. It became a symbol of what not to do when in a bookshop. I should stick to what I like. Pretentious crap for adults should be avoided at all costs. And then my parents got me a copy of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell for Christmas. As I mentioned I had read some lit fic at this point (Fight Club, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and Lord Of The Flies to name a few) but I hadn't fallen in love with it and was still generally opposed to the genre as a whole. Then I read The Bone Clocks. Now, my review was relatively lukewarm, but upon reflection that book was a turning point for me. It showed me that literary fiction, while still being very deep thematically, could be just as emotive and exciting as any other genre. It opened my eyes to an entire genre that I had previously generalised and put under the umbrella of being "boring pretentious shite". And thus, when I finally picked Catch-22, the purchase of which I had lamented for months, back in August I utterly loved it.
Since then literary fiction has become the majority of what I read. The Bone Clocks opened the floodgates to what has become the majority of my reading material. I still love fantasy and science fiction, but lit fic has now become where I go to provoke discussion, to be moved and to have a good time, most importantly.
So what's the point of this? Well I'm a big proponent of the belief that people should read as many genres as they possibly can. I try to be as varied as possible in my reading. And I think everyone should be too. If you only read one genre you're depriving yourself of the joys of reading other genres. The hardest transition to make is that from genre fiction (fantasy, science fiction, YA etc.) to literary fiction. It took me a while but now I don't regret it at all. This post is just me talking about some of the tips I have for people who are trying to broaden their reading horizons by getting into literary fiction. Hopefully I'll be a help. Also bear in that I'm still getting into the genre. By no means am I some guru. This is just some advice I have from my personal experience.
DON'T GIVE UP TOO QUICKLY
Just getting into any genre is going to be tough. If you try to move from, say, YA for example to literary fiction you will read some books that you hate. You will find them boring. You will wish that you could return to the warm embrace of John Green. But just remember: Don't give up! Admittedly it was tough getting into literary fiction. As I mentioned, even though I had read some literary fiction, I was still generally opposed to the entire genre. It took me a while before I found my groove. There will be rocky patches at the start. You will be reading stuff that will be pretty alien to you. Not enjoying some of them is normal. Just make sure to persevere, it's worth it. A good example of this, for me, is the author Haruki Murakami. During the summer last year I picked up 1Q84 on a whim and decided to read it. I didn't like it and gave up after 100 pages. However, after properly getting into literary fiction I read, and loved, both Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and now Murakami is one of my favourite authors.
As Beckett said: "Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
This point is really important. Just because a book is famous, or because a friend likes it, or because you've heard of it somewhere, doesn't mean you will like it. Before I take the plunge into a genre I like to do some research before I try a few books out. That way I'll be able to find books that I'll be more likely to enjoy. I really can't stress this enough. If you're wanting to get into literary fiction, don't read something you know you will hate. Obviously if you've never read any avant-garde before and you decide to give Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow a crack (I'm still many years away from attempting both of those) you will hate them, unless you're like a chameleon and can adapt to any genre immediately. Do you're research on the Internet and try to find some books you think you'll enjoy. It'll make the whole process much more enjoyable. That being said, I didn't really do that so who am I to speak?
Also, literary fiction DOES NOT mean classics that were written over a hundred years ago. That is a misconception many people seem to have.
HAVE AN OPEN MIND
If you start a book thinking you're going to hate it, and combing through each sentence to find faults, you're going to hate the book, and you're going to find faults, whether they're there or not. I feel like this is a big reason why people fail to get into new genres, not just literary fiction. People expect to hate it, and while obviously people's expectations can often be turned on their head, most of the time from my experience, if I go into something expecting to hate it, I probably will. The desire to experience new things, new challenges, is part of the fun I have in reading literary fiction, and in exploring different genres of books (and music, and films as well for that matter) and I think that sense of exploration and intrepidness is needed if you are going to get into a new genre.
DON'T JUDGE LITERARY FICTION THE SAME WAY YOU DO OTHER BOOKS
This point kind of feeds into the last one. OK, say for example you predominantly read YA. YA, from my experience, in general seems to be pretty plot driven. Oh yes character is important, but often it seems like the deal breaker in YA is whether the plot is exciting. Obviously there are plenty of character driven YA books out there, but the majority of the attention seems to generally be focused on plot. Anyway I feel like I'm just digging myself a hole. What I'm trying to say is that YA and literary fiction, for example, are two different genres. They exist for different reasons and go about their storytelling in different ways, for the most part. A lot of literary fiction is done to illustrate a theme, not just to tell a fun story. I'm not saying that those two things can't co-exist, but don't expect to find most literary fiction books engaging because of its rapid-fire plot. There are plenty of thrilling lit fic books out there, but if you compare them to most fantasy novels out there, for example, they don't seem quite as thrilling. Try to focus more on enjoying a book because of the writing, or the characters, or the themes, as opposed to just whether the plot is exciting. I find that if you find things like characters and themes interesting, the book will be engaging, even if the plot is essentially boring (or in the case of Catch-22, it doesn't really have a plot).
I don't really know how well I expressed my point but fuck it I'm getting tired.
SOME BOOKS THAT HELPED ME GET INTO LITERARY FICTION
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell: This guy is a class act. Cloud Atlas is incredible, but this is a great introduction to his works. Definitely a good one if you're looking for something but a more engaging plot. Even features a lot of fantastical elements, so if you're coming from fantasy this wouldn't be a bad place to start.
- Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin: I don't know why I love this book but I do. When I read it summer last year I loved it. Now, with a bit more experience I might not adore it quite as much but I'll always have some nostalgia for this quiet, sad little story.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: I think this is a book a lot of people hate because they have to study it in school but I adored it. Every sentence is a joy to experience. Yeah, the characters aren't exactly nice people, but that's the point. It's simultaneously one of the best social critiques I've read but also one of the most moving experiences of my life. Some of the quotes still give me chills. Beautiful.
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami: This. Fucking. Book. I utterly adore it. So much. While I do prefer The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, this book is a fantastic introduction to the weird world of Haruki Murakami. It contains a lot of the same themes and brilliantly evocative writing as his other books, just without a lot of the weirdness. Out of all the books I mentioned here, this is probably a good place to start if you're getting into literary fiction.
Anyway I hope this list was of some help.I made the post because it seems to me that most people in the blogosphere just read one or two genres, YA being the most common I've encountered, and won't read anything else. And even if they do they tend to not follow anything I've listed above. I think it's important to read as many genres as you can. It helps you not only to become a more well rounded reader, but in my experience a more well rounded person. Also literary fiction tends to be regarded by fans of genre fiction as the big bad genre ruled by pretentious assholes. Some people are assholes, like anything every group of people has a few dicks, but as a whole it's a wonderful genre.
But most of all, read literary fiction because it's fun. It's fun trying out new things. Literary fiction is a brash, vibrant genre full to the brim with innovation, excitement and beauty. It is constantly evolving and constantly engaging. As I've said I haven't been reading it properly for a full year yet but I already love it passionately. Who can resist the childlike wonder of being introduced to a whole barrage of new ideas, concepts, authors, themes and more. Experiencing literary fiction after almost exclusively reading genre fiction is very eye opening, and is something I think everyone who reads seriously and not just to kill time should do.
It's important to read all genres. Literary fiction is an incredibly important genre, just like any other. If you haven't already, give it a go. If you're anything like me, you won't regret it.
Also for those interested while writing this post I listened to the album DIfferent Class by Pulp, which is one of the unsung classics (well, only unsung compared to the adoration of other bands) of the Britpop era. Now whenever anyone asks me the question: Oasis or Blur? I will say: Pulp. Check out the song Common People, it's about as good as it gets.