Saturday, November 20, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: I'm Not Making This Up!

Literary Blog Hop

The Blue Bookcase has started a "Literary Blog Hop" for blogs "that primarily feature reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion."

Each week, in addition to hopping around and visiting some terrific book blogs, participants answer a bookish question.  This week's question is:

Is there such a thing as literary non-fiction? If so, how do you define it? Examples?

Connie answered "yes" on behalf of the Blue Bookcase team and makes the case for Maya Angelou as a master of literary non-fiction.

I have to keep my answer short this week (compared to my Finnegans Wake diatribe last week) because I am in a frenzy of pre-holiday prep work this weekend. So I will say this:

Yes, "literature" is not confined to fiction and poetry.  Non-fiction can be, and historically has been, literature.  In my mind, I count any non-fiction as literature if it is well written, expresses ideas as well as facts, and has some lasting value -- either because if its historical significance or because the ideas still resonate.

I've read quite a bit of non-fiction this year, not all of which I would count as literary, even though they may have been entertaining or useful.  Those I would put in the literary category include the following:
These include travel, essays, memoirs, biography, and straightforward non-fiction.  I definitely think history and historical biography can be literary, but I don't seem to have read any this year, although I am halfway through Antonia Frasier's biography of Marie Antoinette, and that definitely counts as literature.

I look forward to reading other people's answers to this question. It is another interesting one.


  1. I love Antonia Fraser, she's probably my favourite non-fiction author. Marie Antoinette is my favourite of hers, but I also really enjoyed Mary Queen of Scots.

  2. That is a lot of non-fiction! I'm a slacker when it comes to non-fiction, although I did read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and I did buy the new Bonhoeffer biography with every intention of reading it. I need to retire early so I can read more!
    Susan from ReadingWorld.

  3. I enjoy your clever titles with the blog hops. Here's my response:

  4. I've read half of your choices and I loved them so much that I just went to Amazon and added the other half to my wishlist!

    Here's my post on literary nonfiction. I'd love to hear what you think.

    And if you have read any wonderful literary books
    published in 2010, I urge you to nominate your favorites
    for The Independent Literary Awards. The awards
    include categories of Literary Fiction and Literary Non-Fiction.
    Nominations close December 15.

  5. I read about this elsewhere as well. The books being offered are so varied. I have just read only one from your list and will try to get to the others (at least some of them). I like the historical ones as well.

  6. Sam: Marie Antoinette is the first Antonia Frarier book I've read. I will definitely go find any others, including Mary Queen of Scots. Thanks for the tip!

    Susan: That Henrietta Lacks book is getting a lot of buzz. I think my book club will read it one of these days. I like non-fiction a lot, but I tend to pick a novel over anything else and have to make and effort to read the non-fiction book on my TBR shelf.

    LL: Thanks about the titles. I entertain myself easily. Thanks for leaving your link!

    readerbuzz: Glad to be of some inspiration. And thanks for the links to the nomination posts. I'll have to go through my reading list and see if I read anything published this year. It takes me so long to get around to a book, but there must be some 2010 books I've read and enjoyed.

    Mystica: Thanks for visiting! People have come up with a lot of interesting books in answer to this question. I am having fun reading the answers.

  7. I love Antonia Fraser. Mary Queen of Scots is my favourite but The Six Wives of Henry VIII is very good too.
    Haven't got around to Marie Antoinette yet.

  8. Having enjoyed other books by Nick Hornby I will have to check this one out.
    Hope you enjoy the holiday, as much as i enjoyed the FW shennanigans (which was a lot) hope for more diatribe soon.

  9. Cool, looks like you've read a lot of non-fiction! I've heard that Antonia Fraser's writing is flowery and a kind of over the top. Not sure where I heard that, and honestly I've never read any of her stuff. What do you think of her style?

  10. *...expresses ideas as well as facts...*

    I think that line hits the nail on the head. ;-)

    (That Marie Antoinette biography sounds intriguing!! I think I'm adding it to Goodreads...)

  11. I liked Marie Antoinette. Good example of literary non-fiction!

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

  12. I hadn't considered biographies, but I agree they can definitely be literary!

  13. Well, two of the greatest works of American literature are Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Not fiction. Not exactly nonfiction, either. But definitely literary. What about William Least Heat-Moon's American journey "Blue Highways," and John McPhee's many splendid reportages, and Robert Caro's multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson?

  14. Katrina: Thanks for more A.F. recommendations. I am going to look for more of her books.

    parrish lantern: Glad you enjoyed the FW diatribe. I'm sure I have future rants inside.

    If you like Hornby's novels and like to read about books, his series of essays on reading will be a winner for you.

    IngridLola: I wouldn't describe Fraser's style as flowery. It is not stiff and formal, but she just tells an interesting story without wordy embellishment.

    Jillian: Thanks for visiting! And for the compliment.

    gautami tripathy: I didn't realize that Antonia Fraser was so popular. Thanks for leaving your link.

    samstillreading: A good biography can definitely count as literature. Some of my favorite, in fact.

    Bob: You are absolutely right. That's what I was trying to hint at with the phrase about non-fiction historically being literature. We've had literature for longer than we've had the novel.

    Your examples are all good ones. I stuck with books I've read this year for examples, otherwise I was going to be overwhelmed.

  15. Those sound like interesting suggestions! My husband and I went on a wine tasting excursion to Oregon this year, so I'll check out that book. I love Nick Hornby's writing.

  16. The Marie Antoinette biography is definitely one I'm interested in -- looking forward to your review. Here's my Literary view...: Coffee and a Book Chick -- Literary Blog Hop...


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