Classic Literature, vs. Literary and Mainstream Literature

Comments: 5

Recently, a discussion came up in my critique group, Writer's Pen, asking the difference between Classic Literature, vs. Literary and Mainstream Literature. In one of my rare moments of genius, or probably intelligence would be the better descriptor, I said the following. If you have any further ideas to add, please leave me a comment.

"classics" are those books which described the "human condition" of their times and, in a real way, still do. Human nature, as enlightened as we think we are, has not changed much over the span of time. Read the Bible and you'll find the same conditions in Genesis as we have today. Yes, we don't live in tents any longer, we have better sanitation, we eat a more wholesome diet (sometimes), etc., but the basic human natures described in the Bible still exist today, i.e. envy, pride, jealousy, greed, lust for power, etc. "Classic" literature does the same thing, and that, I think, is the appeal of these wonderful (if sometimes boring due to outmoded literary styles) books.

So-called "literary" works describe this "human condition" probably better than most, but usually do it to the exclusion of plot or story line.

That, to me, is the main difference between "literary" and "mainstream" novels, not the difference between "classic" and "literary." Both "literary" and "mainstream" can become "classics." Falkner and Hemingway, to me, are more literary, whereas Melville, Hawthorne (in spite of this thick prose), and Dickens, etc., are more mainstream, who's works have become "classics" in spite of the literary elite of their day. Both kinds of works can and often do describe the "human condition" in such a way as to appeal to readers, though, in my mind, the more mainstream the book is, the more popular it tends to become, especially if it captures the "human condition" accurately and sympathetically in a way that encourages change.

If you're interested in other opinions, you can read, and/or participate in, the rest of the discussion. Click on this link:

Hmm. I tried the link and couldn't get it to work. So, go to the Authors by Design web site that I have listed on my side bar. You'll find it under the LEISURE LOUNGE section.

Now, maybe you can use that as a link. I tried it and it worked. Oh well. I'll never understand computers and the Internet.

About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Thursday, October 25, 2007

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I've been doing some surfing for good writers sites that I can eventually use to create buzz about my upcoming books. I've found a few that seem to have promise. seens to be an active forum with lots of good conversation going on.

I also like the Children's Writers and Illustrators site. I've met several good published authors there, and I am also aware that agents and publishers frequent that site as well.

One I just found the other day, however is Query Tracker. I'll put a link to it on my side bar. The founder, Patrick McDonald, has put together a neat way to track our queries from when you send it out to when you get either rejected or accepted. It also has the names and addresses of most agents and publishers, by genre, and tracks their acceptance rates so we would-be authors can decide if they are a good match or not. Associated with this site, he also has a pretty active forum with lots of people posting and answering. I think this could also be a great place to generate buzz.

Check these sites out. They're on my side bar.
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I recently finished reading "The Firm," by John Grisham, so I thought I'd give you my thoughts about it.

Overall, it's a great book. Full of suspense from page one through the end - well, the last chapter is a bit of a come down, but it still works. It's a denoument, or a wrap-up scene.

The book begins with the main character right up front, unlike some of Grisham's other books where you can't figure out who the MC is until chapter 4 or 5. Grisham does a masterful job of making what seems like a boring legal profession sound exciting, at least for the MC who is caught up in a deadly plot from page one. Grisham, then has the MC and his wife go through wild chase scenes through several chapters where he is only one step ahead of his would-be assassins. I've found is typical of Grisham's style. Still, the MC's resourcefulness and talents comes through to save himself and his wife from the conspirator’s plans to eliminate him.

Overall, it’s a great and exciting read from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it.
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I just got meme'd. I have no idea what that means, but according to Tony Rapino, who meme'd me, you're supposed to do the following:

Make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It's not really bragging, it's an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list. Tag four other writers or artists whom you'd like to see share their strengths.

Hmm. Five strengths. This could be tough as anything I say could be taken as bragging. But in all honesty I'll do my best to be honest, not bragging.

I think one of my best writing qualities is the way I write dialogue. I've had many people tell me that is sounds "real." Even when I write dialects, such as Mexican or Italian, even crude English, my readers tell me they feel they are hearing the character's speach.

I probably don't do enough of this, but I've had several people tell me I could write horror. I don't like to write in that genre, but maybe I might try it someday. Still, when I write dark descriptions, with lots of dark mood settings, I think my readers can feel the tension and fear without being overwhelmed by it.

Some of you know that I've been writing for several years (try more than 20). I haven't sold anything yet, but I feel I'm still learning my craft. I only write a few hours each month. That's all the time I can find to devote to my craft. But I haven't given up. I'm writing two novels at the same time, well actualy just revising one of them, and eventually I know they will both sell someday. Maybe I'll be dead by then, who knows, LOL.

Much like Tony said in his blog, I too think it takes a lot of courage to keep sending my novel ideas to agents and editors, knowing I'll probably be rejected. I've gotten more than 85 rejection slips from "The Bridge Beckons," (TBB) now renamed "Sweet Revenge" (SR). After the 85th, which was a request for a partial, I decided TBB needed a major overhaul and SR was born. I fully intend to start sending SR out sometime early next year (2008), and I'll start the rejection routine all over.

Thick Skin
I've had so many criticisms of TBB and now SR, that I've grown a thick skin. Negative comments don't bother me. In fact I encourage them as I feel I learn more from the negative comments (assuming they're helpful) than I do with "Oh, how wonderful this is." BARF!!!

Okay, that's five. Now I'll have to decide who to send this to. Keep watching your blog sites. If you're a winner, it will be announced there.
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