Let's Talk Books: Literary Fiction

by Beth

"Literary Fiction" is the term give to fiction that falls outside traditional genres like mystery, science fiction, or romance because it does not follow a traditional genre formula. While genre fiction is plot driven and seeks to distract the reader through light entertainment, literary fiction is much more introspective and character driven. Literary fiction explores the human condition, and the effects that actions have on the character(s).

Thanks to everyone who took part in the Let's Talk Books: Own Voices discussion. If you missed it, not a problem! Here's the list of the books we talked about.

To find the upcoming Let's Talk Books events check out https://www.icpl.org/events/ages/adults

To kill a mockingbird

Harper Lee

FICTION Lee, Harper
Literary Fiction, Fiction

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee. Although it was written in 1960 it is set in the mid-1930s in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama. It is narrated by Scout Finch, a six-year-old tomboy who lives with her lawyer father Atticus and her ten-year-old brother Jem. During the novel Scout, Jem and their friend Dill try to make their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley leave his house. Boo has not been seen in Maycomb since he was a teenager. Many residents of Maycomb are racists and during the novel Atticus is asked to defend Tom Robinson, a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Atticus takes on the case even though everyone knows he has little hope of winning. The reader sees the trial develop through the childlike eyes of Scout, as gradually both she and her brother learn some valuable life lessons from their father about tolerance, empathy and understanding.

The handmaid's tale

Margaret Atwood

SCIENCE FICTION Atwood, Margaret
Science Fiction

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood. The story of the novel is set at the end of the 20th century, sometime after 1985. The story’s premise is that a group of “evil” Christians took over the United States and renamed it the Republic of Gilead. Birth rates begin dropping steadily as women are stripped of all their former rights. The women are also divided into one of a few functions available to their gender. If a woman is fertile, she is given to a “Commander” who will take care of her. If a woman cannot have any children, she is sent to the mines, where she works as a slave. The plot revolves around one of these women – a Handmaid (she known as ‘Offered’) and her story. Most of the story alternates between flashbacks and present day. In flashbacks, we see what the Handmaid’s life was like before the Republic of Gilead was created and several events that followed. The novel ends with a “Historical Note”, which was supposedly written by a historian in 2195.

My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry : a novel

Fredrik Backman

FICTION Backman Fredrik

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother's stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. When Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa's greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

The catcher in the rye

J. D. (Jerome David) Salinger

FICTION Salinger, J. D.

Published in 1951, Catcher In The Rye is the story of two days in the life of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, recounted by Holden after the fact. Knowing that he will soon be expelled from another prep school, Holden decides to leave early for the winter break and go to New York City on his own so he is not at home when his parents learn he has been expelled again. He spends three days on his own in New York City. Disillusioned and incensed with his life, he searches for truth while railing against the “phoniness” of the adult world. He ends up exhausted and emotionally unstable, but reconnects with his younger sister.

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Mark Haddon

FICTION Haddon, Mark

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, for fifteen-year-old Christopher everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor's dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructive universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is funny, poignant and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally.

The Mermaid Chair

Sue Monk Kidd

FICTION Kidd, Sue Monk

The Mermaid Chair tells the story of Jessie Sullivan, who goes to Egret Island to tend to her mentally unstable mother, Nelle. While there, she becomes introspective and begins to think about things she needs to confront in her life. Having been estranged from her mother, Jessie struggles to examine and come to terms with their relationship. Nelle, however, is not the only one whom Jessie must consider. Now middle-aged, her marriage to her husband Hugh is decades-long. Hugh is a conventional husband, for the most part, and Jessie begins to feel that she might be looking for a type of independence that she has never experienced in life. While at Egret Island, Jessie meets Brother Thomas, an attractive monk who is nearing, but has not yet taken, his final vows. Jessie faces an inner conflict which pits passion against comfort and raises a question in her mind as to whether or not the two can exist together. Adding to her confusion is the growing need to face the circumstances of her father's death, which has haunted her and her mother for thirty years.

The long way to a small, angry planet

Becky Chambers

Science Fiction

This book follows the travels of The Wayfarer, a wormhole-building ship, and its small crew. The ship is introduced through the arrival of Rosemary Harper, the new clerk. Shortly after her arrival, the ship is offered a lucrative job creating a passage to Hedra Ka, which will require over a year of travel to reach. The rest of the book follows the events of their journey.


Michael Ondaatje

FICTION Ondaatje Michael

In 1945 at the end of the war, Nathaniel's father and mother decide to leave London for a year to go to Singapore, where Nathaniel's father is being stationed. The parents decide to leave their children, 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister Rachel, in the care of their lodger, Walter, known as The Moth. The children both have the impression that The Moth is a thief. Nathaniel's mother claims to know The Moth because they were both in charge of fire watching at the Grosvenor House Hotel during the war but their stories about the war imply that they had other, secretive war jobs.

The rogue is back in town

Anna (Romance novelist) Bennett

FICTION Bennett Anna

"Equal parts scoundrel and seducer, he's returned to London determined to mend the rift with his older brother. All Sam must do is take possession of a tumbledown town house. A seemingly simple task, except the house is occupied--by an infuriating, whip-smart beauty who refuses to do his bidding."--Back cover.

Feldy's girl : a novel

Joseph Dobrian

FICTION Dobrian, Joseph
Fiction, Literary Fiction

Set in the university town of State City, Iowa, Feldy’s Girl is about a coming-of-age woman named Teresa who is the daughter of a local football legend. Teresa is a serious, motivated young woman attending State University during the Sixties Revolution—and must reconcile societal changes with her own upbringing and identity. She’s dating the star quarterback of the State University Rivercats, and making friends with leaders of the New Left movement. In this coming-of-age, literary masterpiece, join Teresa as she finds herself navigating a world of political, social, and spiritual conflict and strife—and striving to stay true to herself and her principles--

People of the book

Geraldine Brooks

FICTION Brooks, Geraldine

The fictionalized history of the Sarajevo Haggadahof. Dr. Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservator who comes to Sarajevo to restore the Haggadah. Her work on the book leaves her with questions: why is the book illustrated, unlike other Haggadot? Why was the last restoration job, a hundred years earlier, done so poorly? What happened to the metal clasps that once held the parchment pages pressed together? How did the Haggadah come from fifteenth-century Spain to the Balkans? In the course of the restoration she takes microscopic samples: fragments of a butterfly's wing caught in the spine, a long white cat hair tangled in the binding, traces of salt crystals, a wine stain mixed with blood. The story alternates between showing Hanna researching the Haggadah in the present, searching archives and taking her samples to forensic labs, and following the history of the Haggadah across five hundred years, in reverse chronological order, revealing the (fictional) explanations for all of Hanna's discoveries

Ghost wall

Sarah Moss

FICTION Moss Sarah

The light blinds you; there's a lot you miss by gathering at the fireside. In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age. For two weeks, the length of her father's vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie's father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs--particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind. The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

The mercies : a novel

Kiran Millwood Hargrave

FICTION Hargrave Kiran

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Forty fishermen, including Maren Magnusdatter's brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. The women of the tiny Arctic town of Vardø must fend for themselves. Three years later Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. His young Norwegian wife, Ursa, sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God, and flooded with a mighty evil. Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, but Absalom's iron rule threatening Vardø's very existence. -- adapted from jacket

She's come undone

Wally Lamb

FICTION Lamb, Wally

In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. Meet Dolores Price. She's 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she's determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before she really goes under.

The glass hotel

Emily St. John Mandel

FICTION Mandel Emily

"From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, dragging countless fortunes with it"--

Jayber Crow : the life story of Jayber Crow, barber, of the Port William membership, as written by himself : a novel

Wendell Berry

FICTION Berry, Wendell

"This is a book about Heaven," says Jayber Crow, "but I must say too that . . . I have wondered sometimes if it would not finally turn out to be a book about Hell." It is 1932 and he has returned to his native Port William to become the town's barber. Orphaned at age ten, Jayber Crow's acquaintance with loneliness and want have made him a patient observer of the human animal, in both its goodness and frailty. He began his search as a "pre-ministerial student" at Pigeonville College. There, freedom met with new burdens and a young man needed more than a mirror to find himself.

A gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles

FICTION Towles Amor

""In all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight.this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility." - Kirkus Reviews (starred) From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility--a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, "Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change." A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel's doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery. Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count's endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose"--

The Dutch house : a novel

Ann Patchett

FICTION Patchett Ann

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves. Cyril's son Danny and his older sister Maeve are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another.


Ali Smith


"From the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both: a breathtakingly inventive new novel--about aging, time, love, and stories themselves--that launches an extraordinary quartet of books called Seasonal. Readers love Ali Smith's novels for their peerless innovation and their joyful celebration of language and life. Her newest, Autumn, has all of these qualities in spades, and--good news for fans!--is the first installment in a quartet. Seasonal, comprised of four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as are the seasons), explores what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy, and the color hit of Pop Art, Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means"--

The death of Vivek Oji

Akwaeke Emezi

FICTION Emezi Akwaeke

Southeastern Nigeria. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek's closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens, an act of violence leads to a family's struggle with loss and transcendence. -- adapted from jacket

Anxious people : a novel

Fredrik Backman

FICTION Backman Fredrik

Taken hostage by a failed bank robber while attending an open house, eight anxiety-prone strangers--including a redemption-seeking bank director, two couples who would fix their marriages, and a plucky octogenarian--discover their unexpected common traits.