September 8, 2011

Why Does Literary Fiction Make My Head Hurt?

Literary Blog HopThe most recent Literary Blog Hop over at The Blue Bookcase asks:

Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that are not difficult?

I don't think all literary writing is difficult, or that it should aspire to be difficult.  And I'm inclined to think that someone who does think it's all impossibly hard has a very specific definition of literary writing.  Many of the 'hard' books tend to be written in a style that is less accessible (and therefore disconcerting).  For instance, I found The Sound and the Fury to be very difficult when I read it in high school, but other literary novels with similar themes aren't difficult at all.   The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one I would definitely put in the 'literary' category, and like The Sound and the Fury, it has a narrator whose perspective can be confusing.  Yet it isn't a tough read at all.  It even has pictures! 

And, of course, books can be difficult for various reasons.  I didn't find Jane Eyre a hard book to read stylistically, but it was hard for me to stomach Rochester for more than three scenes.  Catch-22 is a very tricky book to figure out, but once you stop trying to put things in order and just sink into the humor, it's such a great read. And, of course, some of my most difficult reading moments come not from an unusual style or narration but from reading about characters I love suffering.  (The Outlander series comes to mind; what horrible things haven't happened to those characters?)

Sometimes I think the 'literary' label is completely arbitrary, so I try not to get too worried about it.  If the book is too tough, put it down for a while.  Or just lie and say you finished it. 

(I didn't mean that.  Really, you shouldn't lie.  I never do.)


  1. Some books I find difficult that other friends of mine breeze through and vice versa. Having said, literary fiction requires more of the reader in general I think.

    Must it be difficult/challenging? No.

    Is it usually (whether it be because of the prose or the themes or whatever)? I think probably, if you really want to get underneath everything and really understand what the author is getting at.

  2. Certainly you should lie. That's what storytelling is all about, really. Lying and telling the truth. So I give you permission.

    My thoughts are here: I Never Met a Genre I Didn't Like.

  3. Becky, I think for something to be literary there has to be something challenging or innovative about it, but it doesn't have to be in the writing style. Some books are written very simply but they have themes that are uncomfortable for readers or tackle an issue from a different perspective. So, yes, I agree!

    Deb, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you approve of my "storytelling"! Heading over to read your answer now.

  4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is such a little gem. You're right, it could have been confusing but it isn't.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!