Genre: Literary Fiction

February 24, 2015
Sunderland Public Library

Benchmark: That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Literary Fiction Resources:

Notes on Discussion

RA Roundtable Meeting Minutes, taken by Eliza Langhans on the 26th of February

  • Next meetings are April 16th, a Thursday, and June 16th, a Tuesday.  Sign up on Eventkeeper.
  • Positive feedback re refreshments.
  • Commiseration re endless winter.
  • Announcements including upcoming webinars, seminars and MLA conference (see MLS and MLA website for details).
  • Discussion re appeal factors vs plot while RAing patrons.
    • Jan solicits feedback: is the Roundtable helping?
    • Comment: remains tricky when talking to patrons.
    • Jan reminds us that yellow review forms are a great help.
    • Novelist is reviewing and updating their appeal factors list.
    • Reminder re passive RA: booklists, shelf notes and displays.
  • Discussion re characteristics of typical Literary Fiction readers/novels.
    • Books not as escapist, not as predictable.  Do not always have certain or reassuring conclusions.  LitFic readers may find this satisfying as others would not.
    • Often more elegantly written with more complex language.  Words are important in their own right.  Sometimes experimental.
    • Characters are not always sympathetic.  Secondary characters may be more developed.
    • World does not have easy choices or clear cut lines between good and evil.
    • More difficult to skim or make generalizations.  Slower paced.
    • Molly: Joyce Saricks notes that there are well-written books in every genre, making LitFic an odd designation, suggesting as it does that the books in this genre are superior to books in other genres when this is not necessarily true.  Molly notes that LitFic readers often tend to be drawn more to prizewinners.
    • Other commenters note that they often feel they “ought” to read LitFic but then do not actually enjoy it.
    • Faith senses a reverse snobbery.  Says that she does read LitFic for entertainment and escape.
    • Another commenter notes that there is a great deal of crossover with other genres.
    • Rousing discussion re pos and neg aspects of LitFic.
    • Mary Anne notes that LitFic can be life-changing, and books may be particularly powerful or meaningful at different points in one’s life.
  • Discussion commences re That Old Cape Magic.
    • Several commenters note that they did not enjoy or find characters realistic or sympathetic.
    • Others declare that they felt the opposite and commence a rousing defense.
    • Those who did not finish are enlightened re the ending (non-ending).
    • Eliza and Faith go more in-depth into their dissatisfaction.  Faith says she does not feel it was really literary fiction.  Eliza compares it to The Mathematician’s Shiva, a recently published book with a (vaguely) similar plot which she loved and recommends.  Faith shares LitFic authors she prefers including Toni Morrison, Susanna Clarke, and Jane Smiley.
    • Jan notes that one of the reasons they picked That Old Cape Magic is that it is more accessible than some LitFic.
  • Second Titles!
    • Eliza recommends The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
    • Mary Anne recommends Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat, not only amazing but also notes that many LitFic readers in her library have enjoyed.
    • Betty read Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore.  Many others also read this and enjoyed or didn’t enjoy to varying degrees.
    • Lindsey also read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson but does NOT recommend (unlike Eliza).
    • Faith read How the Dead Dream and Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet.  Says were brilliantly written and entertaining.
    • Marjorie read M.L. Steadman’s The Light Between the Oceans. Says was a good book with a strong sense of place.
    • After several false starts Zoe read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand which was laugh-out-loud funny with lots of dry and sarcastic humor.  She highly recommends the audiobook.  Almost everyone in the room has read and enjoyed this book as well.
    • Sandra says the most stunning piece of LitFic she has read this year is All the Light We Cannot See, which others have read and recommend.
    • Marjorie read Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich which was fast-paced but very sad.  Does not give a positive portrayal of marriage.
    • Jodi read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, which she did not enjoy despite having read other books by Murakami.  Those interested in the author would do better starting with another book, perhaps Kafka on the Shore.
    • Jan read many books including Perdido Street Station by China Mieville and says there was something brilliant about it even though it was difficult to read.  It does have fantasy and scifi elements which may turn some LitFic readers off, but a good recommendation for someone who is open-minded and looking for something complex.  She also read Riding Lessons, the first novel by Sarah Gruen (Water for Elephants) and even though it was not as strong as Water For Elephants it did remind her of That Old Cape Magic.
    • Molly read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes which is not the type of book she would normally read and very slowly paced, but she did like it.
  • Random plugs!  Eliza loves Barbara Pym who is witty and insightful and ought not to be forgotten.  Mary Anne read Family Life by Akhil Sharma which is very sad but amazing. Marjorie recommends Italo Calvino, particularly If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.  Eliza enjoyed The Baron in the Trees.
  • Please write up a report of your second titles and submit them so that Molly can add them to the blog.  We are trying to build up the blog to be a resource everyone can use.
  • The next meeting is at the Coolidge Museum in Forbes Library on April 16th at 9:45.   Read The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry and another “adventure” title.


Second Titles

Name: Betty Johnson

  • Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore
  • Author: Robin Sloan

Name: Jan Resnick

  • Title: Perdido Street Station
  • Author: Mieville, China
  • Appeal Factors: Slow, riveting pace; Characters – alien, unique, well-developed though not totally sympathetic; World building; Language:  descriptive, gritty, complex vocabulary; Tone:  oppressive, gruesome, strong sense of place; New Crobuzon, 1779 local years
  • Summary/Thoughts: Bas-Lag is a complex continent of which New Crobuzon is a city state.  Citizens vote by lottery, but none of the primary characters have ever won the opportunity to vote.  The City government is heartless and corrupt.  Most of the multi-species, sentient residents live in oppressive conditions.  Isaac, a researcher and eccentric inventor, contracts with the Garuda Yagharek, a half bird like being, to restore his ability to fly.  Isaac’s experiments have unintended consequences that release an horrific, unimaginable peril on the city and its inhabitants.  Desperate and disparate beings ally to overcome the creatures but at indescribable cost.  City pols and gangsters want to capture the creatures which are also the source of a lucrative mind altering drug.  A challenging, thought-provoking novel, almost overwhelming in its intensity.
    New Crobuzon #1
  • Similar authors/titles:  George Alec Effinger – Madrid Audran Trilogy; Ian R. MacLeod – The Light Ages; Rjurik Davidson – Unwrapped Sky; K.J. Bishop – The Etched City; Danie Ware – Ecko Rising; Kage Baker – Nell Gwynne’s on Land and at Sea; Jay Lake – Trial of Flowers
  • Genre: Literary Fiction; Steampunk

Name: Jan Resnick

  • Title: Riding Lessons
  • Author: Gruen, Sara
  • Appeal Factors: Fast paced; Characters – well-developed though not totally sympathetic lead character; Character-driven; Language:  compelling; Tone:  bittersweet; contemporary New Hampshire
  • Summary/Thoughts: Annmarie is going home – she’s had a very bad day:  she’s been laid off, her husband has fallen in love with a young woman only a few years older than their daughter, and she learns that her father is in the final stages of ALS.  She takes her stubborn, angry teenaged daughter and runs away to the family riding stable in New Hampshire only to realize that by running home she has also run back to a lot of unresolved and very active personal issues.  Avoidance, stoicism, really dumb decisions, and personal pain eventually teach Annmarie that if you are going to reclaim your life, you must make conscious, well-considered decisions rather than react to events.
  • Similar authors/titles:  Elizabeth Berg, Barbara Delinsky, Barbara Samuel – A Piece of Heaven, Anita Shreve, Luanne Rice, Junot Diaz
  • Genre: Literary Fiction; Women’s Lives; A/YA

Name: Zoe Keenan

  • Title: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
  • Author: Helen Simonson
  • Appeal Factors: Humorous, contemplative but also light hearted, language, character development/descriptions are wonderful
  • Summary/Thoughts: The audiobook is narrated by  Peter Altschuler who does a fabulous job!!

Name: Molly Moss

  • Title: The Sense of an Ending
  • Author: Julian Barnes
  • Appeal Factors: philosophical, witting, spare, thoughtful
  • Summary/Thoughts: Slow-paced with a slight sense of unease and foreboding. Tony Webster takes us through his life, from school through retirement, focusing specifically on a few people whose lives have touched his, and the effects on his life and him on theirs. A letter received later in life causes him to question his past, and the mystery of memory. Who is history written by? Winner of the 2011 Man-Booker Prize. Especially good in audio, read by Richard Morant.
  • Red flag: significant blunt discussion of sex

Name: Lyndsay Johnson

  • Title: Life After Life
  • Author: Kate Atkinson
  • Summary/Thoughts: Not what I expected, felt the constant repetition of scenes detracted from the overall story.

Name: Marjorie Curtis

  • Title: the Light Between the Oceans
  • Author: M.L. Stedman
  • Appeal Factors: atmospheric, strong sense of place, good writing

Name: Mary Bell

  • Title: Shadow Tag
  • Author: Louise Erdrich
  • Appeal Factors: Pacing was a bit fast for literary fiction, easy to turn pages; Characterization – in-depth portrayal of a family; Language – spare, complex and striking, often broken up into choppy sections (no chapters), which all makes sense in the end; Story – character-driven; Tone – dark; Frame – just outside of Minneapolis
  • Summary/Thoughts: Gil and Irene America are both part-Indian husband and wife living in Minnesota. Gil is an artist, made famous and successful by painting a series of Irene which ran the gamut from sexual to lovely. Now, their marriage is falling apart: Irene starts a second, hidden diary and starts using the one at home to manipulate her husband, when she discovers he’s secretly reading it. The writing/themes takes center stage, the characters come next, and everything else is incidental. The dynamics of Gil and Irene’s relationship are complex, and Erdrich uses them to explore this idea of a “shadow” and how the representation of a person may steal his/her soul. Irene, in a way, is also trying to get out of Gil’s shadow and his image of her, and trying to keep a part of herself separate and private. Can either of them really be “free” from the other in this relationship? Definitely one of those titles that works well for a book discussion.

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