What is literary fiction?

Literary fiction is the best genre of fiction there is. Fact.

There are many definitions of literary fiction but I think the easiest way to think about it is as not genre fiction. Genre fiction – like crime, romance, thrillers, sci-fi, adventure, horror and so on – have very distinct themes and components. It’s easy to fit genre fiction books into their corresponding team. The books that don’t fit into those categories are usually literary fiction.

How to spot a literary fiction book

Literary fiction looks and sounds different from genre fiction. You can spot them by their:

  • Artistic jackets – genre fiction tends to have very defined cover designs whereas literary fiction jackets are unique works of art. They often come complete with the most beautiful end papers, too.
  • Titles – again, genre fiction has certain standards when it comes to naming books (think of all of the ‘girls’ in crime fiction) to make them easily identifiable. Literary fiction books have more poetic or abstract names that capture the spirit of the novel.
  • Characters – literary fiction is driven by intriguing characters that are painted to great depths by the author. While genre fiction is often much more plot driven, literary fiction explores relationships and character flaws.
  • Hardbacks – literary fiction is typically published in hardback first (with increasingly elaborate book jacket designs and materials) followed by a paperback, as opposed to genre fiction that is often launched in paperback.

As summarised in this great article by the Huffington Post, genre fiction is about captivating writing that offers escapism and entertainment, while literary fiction explores the human condition.

They both have their merits and you can, of course, read across all the genres you can find. You can never read enough books, after all.

However, literary fiction is, for me, the best genre. I love its breadth, the quality of writing, the stunning production of the books themselves, and the way its narratives hold a mirror up to nature to discover what it is to be human.

Book and Brew celebrates the best in modern literary fiction and is the place to find the latest literary fiction reads.