Friday, March 20, 2009
What's Down Under
A few weeks ago my husband and I went to a big party. Big as in over a hundred people, DJ and passed hors d’oeuvres. During the short drive there, he asked me whether I thought a TV show could be “literary.”
First, I have to say that this is exactly the reason I married him. He likes to think it’s because he has a cute behind, but in truth it’s because he asks these kinds of questions and always at just the right moment. In this case, the right moment being my needing something to talk about at a big party, because I’m especially poor at small talk. I imagined us being introduced to a few people, the conversation might wane, and then I could jump in with this question and we could talk about whether “Lost” is literary. Or whether “E.R.” is. Or even “Star Trek.”
(I’m sure this is precisely why we don’t get invited to parties very often.)
Of course during the long walk from the car, we both realized that neither of us possessed a firm understanding of what exactly makes a story “literary.” Our assessments were merely gut reactions, nothing we could substantiate. Luckily, the party was too loud to talk about anything with anybody, so we just made a beeline for the DJ and danced all night.
When I got home, I tried to find a useful definition of “literary” online. It was harder than I thought. I did come across a blog from a literary agent in which he writes an entire post about trying to define literary fiction. Mostly, about how difficult it is to find a definition that’s, well, definitive.
That made me feel a bit less dense.
He wrote: “In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.” And then a commenter wrote, “…literary fiction uses plot to reveal its themes, whereas for the most part, genre fiction is the plot.”
If you’re a writer, (or a reader, or even just someone who has whole lotta time to kill), you might find this guy’s blog interesting. It’s called Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent, which, ironically, sounds to me like a novel Dashiell Hammett might have written. It’s not going to change the way I watch Judge Judy, but I feel like I have somewhere to turn if I ever get invited to another party.