Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is There Such A Thing As Literary Non Fiction?

A Literary Blog Hop post courtesy of The Blue Bookcase

Literary Blog Hop
The Blue Bookcase hosts a weekly "Literary Blog Hop," asking bloggers to answer a question of a literary nature on their literary blogs. Today's question is a no brainer: "Is there such a thing as literary non fiction.

Let's consider some examples. This week the first volume of the Autobiography of Mark Twain was published by the University of California. One might question how much of any autobiography is really non fiction but this is surely a work of literary value. My copy is on order. Look for a review on this blog soon.

I recently reviewed Paul Theroux's Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. I wouldn't claim that my review is timeless prose, but I have high hopes for Theroux. He may make it as a writer some day. I'm not just saying this because his parents lived down the street from me when I was a lad.

Now let's take a look at John McPhee. After discovering The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed back in the dark ages of my youth, my next McPhee book was Oranges. Here is a man who captures the readers imagination, not just writing about a commercially failed amazing feat of engineering, but writing about agriculture, geology, long haul trucking and migratory fish. McPhee is a literary craftsman of the highest order.

What makes a book "literary" anyhow? I know it when I see it, yet can't define it. I don't think there is a genre that could not contain some work worthy of the name. Fantasy novels might not be considered literary, but what about The Lord of the Rings? Illustrated children's books? The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren or The Night Before Christmas. Graphic novels? Now there you've got me.

Perhaps you could suggest a graphic novel that you consider to be "literary." Leave a comment if you have a suggestion.


  1. All poetry is considered nonfiction, so are memoirs. There is plenty written on the writers life as well. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Remembrance of Things Past Combray Stephane Heuet is an excellent interpretation of Proust. Robert Crumb illustrated Introducing Kafka which was very interesting.

  2. I definitely think that Persepolis and the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman could be considered literary graphic novels. There are more and more out there, some of which on very weighty topics or as retellings of major literature. There's even one about Oscar Wilde, of all people.

  3. I'd say that Maus was a literary graphic novel.

    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.

  4. I'm interested to hear what you think about Mark Twain's autobiography.

  5. I'm in agreement with heather on Persepolis as
    this work paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home and public life. And here's a nice quote concerning the "mainstream lit"

    “For those who resist the notion that the mainstream is a genre, we recommend that they browse the shelves of their local bookstore. For if the mainstream is not a genre, then it must necessarily embrace all kinds of writing: romance, adventure, horror, thriller, crime, and, yes, science fiction.” – James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel.
    Thanks enjoyed your post.

  6. You mentioned wonderful works. I have a few in my tbr pile. Adding the rest too!

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

  7. I just finished reading a book of poetry by Tomaz Salamun that was good. On the graphic novel point, I think Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are on their A Game. They're writing some of the wittiest literature around.
    I think the question about what makes literature is interesting. I'm going to muse about it for a little.


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