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02 July 2008


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I believe this is what a certain Jeff refers to as "bummer fiction". A new genre? Plus, I think this may have been offered as a free download. Hmmm. Even for free . . .

Yes, I can see where a heading of "bummer fiction" would work as well, but somehow "ugly fiction" is the moniker I've settled on. There's things that are bummers, and then there's truly wallowing in all the things that make the world ugly. Hence, Ugly Fiction.

It was offered for free, by download, by the author and his publisher, although the offer no longer stands. You can read parts of it though (http://www.beautifulchildren.net/read/), so maybe it would be best to go there, read a sample, and make the decision for yourself.

Some authors (and directors) seem to want to rub the faces of people in the tragedy of the world. I don't think this is the best way to get people to pay attention to things.

That's the thing, though, you know? I don't think that Bock is really just trying to wallow in it or rub peoples' faces in it for no good reason (unlike Jodi Picoult, who both wallows in it and strives to profit from it). I think he's trying to understand it. And maybe offer some human bits to make sense of it? But that just makes me sadder. I don't know why fiction makes me feel so bleak, when I so often read nonfiction that predicts dire economic futures, class warfare, and violence by street kids, etc. It's a quandary.

At risk of being overly utilitarian, I think nonfiction is more useful. As you say the author is trying to understand it, which is all well and good, but what does that do for the reader? Aside from realizing that things do in fact suck for some people, not much. Nonfiction that addresses some problem usually identifies causes or even potential solutions upon which the reader can act.

Not sure you read Madreads anymore, so I'll just have to tell you here....finally saw North and South. Swoon-city! In the text, Gaskell was a tad preachy, and the romance was a bit bland (to me at least). The video captured the conflict and the passion perfectly. I heart Richard.

CR: Your mistake with fiction is that you keep going for the well-reviewed and/or literary fiction. Please: Before you attempt a novel again, talk to me first. We've got to find some genre trash for you. We must!

(Says the lesbrarian, who just finished a guilty pleasure read with Harlan Coben.)

Tripp: Disagree with you on the usefulness of fiction vs. nonfiction, at least on a personal level. I derive more inspiration and motivation from fiction. Fiction pushes my brain in new ways, makes me think creatively, nudges me into action. Nonfiction-- not as much, or at least not as often. I see what you're saying, but... hmm, I suppose it depends on the reader.

Oh, I forgot. I'm one of the people who like bummer fiction. For me there's just something about people triumphing over/surviving their sad situations. And factual nonfiction (vs. memoir/entertaining nf) seems way more depressing; yes, often solutions are offered, but will the government, officials, organizations actually implement those solutions? Don't get me wrong, I read/enjoy both fiction and nonfiction. Just know there's one vote out there for bummer fiction!

Tripp, Lisa, Lesbrarian, et al,
This is a really interesting discussion, incidentally.

I don't even know if it's the useless nature of fiction that bothers me, as I agree with Lesbrarian that good fiction helps me work through issues and have some thoughts. (I owe Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It a lot for helping me understand families, for example.) And God knows I don't do anything with what I learn from NF--I'm not out there protesting, or talking to people in an informed manner, or really doing anything helpful at all.

So, I still don't know why I can read bleak NF but I can't stand it in my fiction. Maybe it's as simple as if I read NF, I feel justified in blowing off other things, as I am "learning," but not fiction, where I am just supposed to be "thinking"? I don't know.

Lesbrarian, I'm all about the genres, although I don't mention them as much. I love romances by Elizabeth Hoyt, mysteries by Ian Rankin, etc., (but, okay, not thrillers by James Patterson). I need to read some Coben, I know. But would ALL of the literary fiction have to be so sad?

Have you read Beautiful Children? What's your favorite latest "bummer fiction" read? (Also: does Jodi Picoult count as bummer fiction, and do you like her--no crime if you do, I'm just curious--or is she more "commercial fiction"?

Incidentally, of course I'm still reading MADreads! I've got to get a link to it. North and South-swoon. Richard Armitage-swoon. And I suppose you've seen this?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxupiI95dDo

There's nothing ugly about that!

Word to the wise: "Robin Hood series one" is now in the MPL catalog...starring none other than Richard Armitage as bad guy Guy of Gisborne--in black leather. I'd recommend getting on that hold list.

I liked Beautiful Children. I did a madreads review of it back in March and talked about how it got lots of criticism. I felt like throughout the book, Bock tried to give us glimpses of humanity in truly ugly situations. His writing style appealed to me, it reminded me of Junot Diaz's way of incorporating street slang in long winded literary sentences and making it work. I normally don't like bummer fiction, but this one sucked me in.


I agree with you that fiction can influence you on the philosophical level, I think most fiction writers don't do a great job of it though. The best fiction can make you reflect on your own life and how you might improve it. In terms of the world's many horrors, unless you are dealing with said horrors, it's hard to see what the book can do.

On a related note, I think genre fiction right now can be just as good at this as literary fiction.


I'm glad you liked it. Also interesting to hear you compare it to the Junot Diaz...which I have not been reading because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like it.

I still say it's valid to perform reader's advisory/book suggesting based on linking together titles you hated (although you wouldn't necessarily tell a reader/patron that), so I found your comparison to the Diaz doubly interesting.

I also was not a fan of the long-winded sentences, I'm too impatient, so I really had no business reading this one at all. And, everyone? Katharine's review of the book is a lot better than mine. Check it out: http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/madreads/index.php/2008/03/24/gritty-work-of-literature-set-in-vegas/

Haven't read Beautiful Children, and most likely won't. While I like the bummer genre, I seem to stick to situations I may encounter in my life in contrast to the really sad side of life (though I am watching The Wire....) And I wonder if that's why I read bummers...because I have had a blessed life and am trying to learn how others cope with their tragedies in preparation for the day when it happens to me? I'll never get involved in drugs, porn or alcoholism, so I don't need to prep myself. Who knows? My latest favorite was The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Grief, bratty kids, family pressures. See my Madreads review. Sorry, I love Picoult (I didn't want to admit it to you) but I don't see her as literary fiction...she's my substitute for romance/mysteries which I no longer read. I'm not smart enough for mysteries and no one measures up to Jane Austen in the romance dept (though I'm tempted by Aidan). Okay, enough. Thanks for the Youtube link (will watch later) and the head's up on Robin Hood. I heart RA (oh, I said that already!)

Interesting caveats about how and why you like bummer fiction--this has given me lots to think about.

You never have to apologize or fear admitting reading to me. I know I like to pick on Picoult, but we all have our authors we like to have a little fun with, don't we? I'm sure I like tons of stuff you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole (says the girl who just polished off the latest issues of GQ and Details, for instance)! No worries.

We all heart RA, and you can't say it enough. Definitely get Robin Hood, and DEFINITELY try the Aidan. She's not Austen, no one is, but she's the closest I've seen.

I just can't get past the book's horrendous cover. I'll pass.

It doesn't show in the picture, but at least the "Beautiful Children" part is in glitter. Still, not one of your more arresting covers, I'll admit.

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