I am finishing up a post about Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector and I find myself with a bit of a dilemma. I have all of these nice Categories where I can put fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, essays, classics, and mysteries. But what do I call a book like The Cookbook Collector, which is a novel with a modern setting and no magic or sci-fi to speak of?
Bookstores and critics sometimes call this category “literary fiction.” That term makes me cringe. It carries a lot of implied genre snobbery, suggesting that a book like The Cookbook Collector or Freedom or My Sister’s Keeper is more worthy of being called “literature” than, say, Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. Google searching suggests the alternate term “serious fiction,” but that seems to have the same problems. Subject matter alone doesn’t determine whether a book is “serious” or “literary.”
Do I simply call it “Fiction”? That doesn’t seem quite right. “Modern fiction”? Maybe, but aren’t recently-written mysteries and fantasy novels also arguably “modern fiction”?
For now I’m going with “Realistic Fiction” for novels with modern settings and no other obvious genre category, but I’m open to suggestions.
What do you think of the “literary fiction” label?