Tag Archives: Literary Fiction

Literary Fiction or Genre Fiction?

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Do you prefer to read literary fiction or genre fiction? Up until I was in college, I didn’t realize there was much of a difference. Isn’t literary fiction the same as genre fiction? Apparently not.

In publishing, literary fiction is considered “high brow” literature with more “merit.” Whereas genre fiction is more commercialized. Something like “Severance,” by Ling Ma, would be severanceconsidered literary fiction. It has more to do with character development than plot. But a book like “The Da Vinci Code,” by Dan Brown would be more like genre fiction. It has a set plot and the reader eagerly flies through each page to find out what happens at the end.

I was thinking about the two different forms of fiction and asked myself whether I had a clear preference. To answer this question, I went on my Goodreads page and started browsing the list of books I’ve read over the years. It seems like I mostly prefer genre fiction with a scattering of literary fiction thrown in here and there. If I’m being honest, I do prefer a book that forces me to ask “what’s going to happen next?” At the same time, some of my more favorite titles have fallen into the MyYearofRestcategory of literary fiction. For example, one of my favorite books is “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” by Ottessa Moshfegh. It’s about a woman who is independently wealthy and lives in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her goal is to hibernate and alienate herself from the world with the use of some heavy drugs. As you can imagine, not a whole lot happens with the plot of this book. Yet, I still found it to be an engrossing novel.

The irony of the two different forms of literature is that even though literary fiction is considered “high brow” and its books are often short/long listed for some notable literary prizes (think Booker Prize, Orange Prize, etc), they don’t sell as well as genre fiction. As much as I loved “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” very few people have actually heard of it, or even heard of Ottessa Moshfegh for that matter. Yet, everyone has heard of Dan Brown. And everyone has heard of Nicholas Sparks, Nora Ephron, Lee Child, John Grisham, etc. But those aren’t the writers who win the greatest awards in literature. Even so, they still earn the most money.

It’s not just the publishing industry that is like this. Movies are similar. Whenever I watch the Oscars, I noticed that many of the movies nominated are movies that I’ve never seen or heard of. Most of the movies that were my favorites are often not nominated at all. Many of the movies I like go on to make millions at the box office, but it’s the lesser known movies that get the awards. In that regard, books and movies are similar.

Even so, probably the majority of my reading is still going to be from “commercialized” books. What can I say? They’re entertaining. And sometimes it doesn’t matter that something carries more merit in our society. At the end of the day, we read what we want to read. And even though I consider myself to be a “serious” reader, today I may just read “Crazy Rich Asians,” and escape from my own reality.

The Book of Essie, by Meghan MacLean Weir

I had never heard of “The Book of Essie,” by Meghan MacLean Weir until I happened to find it through the Book of the Month website. There was nothing about it through my Instagram feed, my book podcasts, book blogs, etc. I just read the book description through the site and thought it might be a fun read. I was pleased to discover that this book ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year (so far)!

BookofEssie

Synopsis:

The story follows Essie Ann Hicks, the youngest child from the devout Christian family featured in the reality show “Six for Hicks.” Her parents are more fundamentalist Christians than traditional. From a very young age, Essie has been brought up in the spotlight and has been demonized and idolized by the public. When Essie’s mother discovers Essie is pregnant, a plan is made to try and avoid any controversy. This plan includes Roarke, a classmate who has his own secrets, and Liberty Bell, a conservative reporter who gets exclusive interviews on Essie’s story.

Throughout the book we learn a little bit more about Essie, Roarke and Libby. Weir keeps things interesting by leaving the reader wanting more at the end of each chapter. What is Esssie’s real plan? What secret is Roarke hiding? What happened to Essie’s sister and why is she estranged?

Favorite Quote from this book:

“It’s men who trust they will suffer no consequences for their actions, while women suffer no matter what they do.”

Overall Thoughts: 

This is a book that will keep you interested from the beginning to the end.  Each of the characters have something important to add to the story and I really enjoyed getting to know them. They each struggle with their own separate issues, but the one common element for the three main characters, Essie, Roarke, and Libby, is that of taking control over their own lives. We see how each of them decides for themselves how to stand up for what they want. This is something that many people can relate to, especially those of us who had to deal with controlling parents.

The one thing I will mention is that the author does bring up many hot button issues packed into just one book. Themes such as abuse, homosexuality, rape, religion, racism, and abortion are scattered throughout the story. I think the author would have done a better job if she had maybe cut out some of these and just focused on one or two of the main themes in the book. I loved all of the characters’ stories but felt like I wanted just a little bit more, but there was no room.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the book overall.  The author is clearly a talented writer and she has a knack for keeping her readers interested. I was surprised by many of the twists in the story that I didn’t see coming. This is the type of book that you read at night, try to put down, but then say to yourself, “maybe just one more chapter…”

My Rating:

5stars

Since this book kept me entertained for every chapter, I have to give it 5 out of 5 stars.

A Woman Is No Man, by Etaf Rum

AWomanIsNoManWhen I started to read Etaf Rum’s “A Woman Is No Man,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. It struck me as the kind of book that I might have found to be too depressing and, as a result, exhausting to read. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that instead of bringing me down, it actually gave me hope.

The story begins with Isra, a young Palestinian woman who is pressured by her family to get married. Despite her young age (she is just a teenager), she is expected to marry right away and have children. She does exactly what is expected and marries Adam, an abusive man who takes her to Brooklyn, where they live in a small house with his parents in an Arab neighborhood.

Years later, history repeats itself as Isra’s daughter, Deya, is pressured by her grandmother (Fareeda) with the same fate. But with the help of an estranged relative, Deya discovers she has more options than she is actually aware of.

Although I loved this book, there were many parts of the story that enraged me! It wasn’t so much the constant physical abuse by the men, but by the complacency and enabling of the abuse by the women. There were many pages that were beyond difficult to read. This especially hit hard for me because of my own Arab roots. My father is Egyptian and there was a time when he seriously considered bringing me to Egypt to raise me there. Eventually he decided against it and I got to stay in the United States. But when I was reading the book, I kept wondering what my life would have been like growing up in a traditional Arab culture. Likely, my experience would have been a bit different since my family seems a lot more liberal than Isra’s. In fact, many Arab families would be considered more liberal. Not all Arab families follow the same strict rules where men dominate women’s lives (thank goodness!)

The book has alternating chapters, from different character’s points of view. The author really shows the reader what it’s like to live an oppressive life under patriarchal rule through the eyes of Isra, Deya, and Fareeda. These women feel that they have no rights to make their own choices. Even something as small as going outside for a walk is forbidden.

This type of oppression against women is not specific to just the Palestinian community described in this book. Sadly, it happens throughout the world and from all different cultures. This story is definitely a reminder that, even in 2019, we still have a long way to go for gender equality.

Severance, by Ling Ma

What would you do if it were the end of the world? How would you feel? Sad? Scared? I, for one, would be utterly panicked. In Ling Ma’s dystopian novel, Severance, it’s the end of the world, and surprisingly, her main character is not panicking.

severance

The story is set in modern times with very modern references springing on the pages to remind you that society is now run by millenials. Our protagonist, Candace Chen, is one of them. Candace works the same boring 9 to 5 job making Gemstone Bibles, hangs out with her boyfriend watching movies in his basement, and in her spare time she works on her blog, NY Ghost. Her parents recently died and with her extended relatives all in China, she’s essentially alone.

Then, the epidemic of Shen Fever plagues the world, an illness that turns people into mindless drones. Candace amazingly survives the epidemic, and goes on to find another small group of survivors, led by Bob, a crazed former IT employee with a god-like complex.

While reading this book, I asked myself: why is this book called “Severance”? And I then realized it’s the perfect title. It’s about Candace’s separation from everything in her world. She separated from China when she immigrated to the US at age 6. She separated from her parents when they died, her boyfriend when he left New York, her job when it shut down, and society, when it eventually crumbled.

The story is dark, but also slightly satirical. Ma’s descriptions of the people who were affected by Shen Fever are creepy. It’s certainly not a way I’d like to go. If there’s a disease that is affecting millions of people, I wouldn’t want it to be Shen Fever… maybe something that would kill me a little quicker!

I read a lot of other reviews for “Severance” and saw that many people were unsatisfied with the ending. Without giving away anything, I can say that the ending was about what I would have expected. I knew that there couldn’t be a great conclusion. I mean… we’re talking about the end of the world here. How good of an ending could there be? Still, I wouldn’t be against a possible sequel to see if there’s maybe more to the story.

Golden Child, by Claire Adam

golden childI confess the main reason why I chose this book from January’s Book of the Month Club was because it takes place in Trinidad and it was written by a Trini author, Claire Adam. Although I, myself am not from there, my husband is. Since we’ve been married, we’ve traveled back and forth to Trinidad several times. So I was very excited to pick up this book!

The story is about a family that lives in rural Trinidad. The father, Clyde, works long hours and is having trouble providing for his wife, Joy, and their sons, Peter and Paul. Although the two boys are twins, they are nothing alike. Peter excels in school and has a promising future, while Paul is the complete opposite. The parents assume that Paul struggles because of complications he experienced during birth.

One night, after Paul doesn’t show up home from school, Clyde goes out to find him. Hours become days and still, there is no sign of Paul. As Clyde slowly unravels the mystery of what happens to his son, he must make a decision that will affect the family dramatically.

Although the book is sort of a slow burn, I really appreciated the vivid descriptions used by the author to describe Trinidad. Far too often, when I hear people talk about the island nation, I only hear the same things over and over again. It’s beautiful and laid back. The food is delicious. It’s the home of Calypso and Carnival. All of those things are true. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

triniscenic

Like any other country, Trinidad has its problems, particularly with poverty and crime. Adam does not shy away from this in her story and she shows that these problems are as ubiquitous as the natural beauty of the island. Make no mistake, this book is not intended to help tourism in Trinidad, but neither is it intended to scare people away. I think Adam’s intent was to show how a real family lives, feels and survives in Trinidad.

Every time I’ve visited Trinidad, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to actually live there. It’s a far cry from my home in Maryland. In Port of Spain, I noticed barbed wire circling many of the buildings, even the schools, with the backdrop of palm trees and a tropical landscape. The houses range from modern, colorful structures to smaller dwellings with galvanized tin roofs in a typical shanty town. Many of the  modern houses have electric gates to block the houses from intruders, much like the ones described in Adam’s book.

Overall, I think “Golden Child” is a very well written and engaging story. I would recommend it to anyone with a curiosity for West Indian life.