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I got to put together a description of the book selections for the book discussion group at work this week. After doing that (scouring Amazon.com, Publisher’s Weekly, and other sources in order to adequately describe books I haven’t read, and after doing this, don’t really want to, either) and too much time killed in bookstores and libraries (heh), I think I’ve come up with a new theory of literary fiction, which is to say, what the publishers, awards folks, and various peculiar people push on us.

The following elements are involved, with their translation:

--“psychological intricacy” = the main character will do nothing but have lengthy wining monologues and the occasional conversation; after 400 pages or so, very little if anything will happen.

--“epic panache” = need to justify 800 page hardcovers.

--“harrowing meditation” = numerous characters will die, and probably kittens and puppies as well.

--“complex figure” = the protagonist is a douchebag, except the publisher doesn’t want to market it that way.

--“timeless themes” = you’ve probably heard this one before, possibly even in your exceptionally lame high school English class where you still had vocabulary quizzes.

Likewise I’ve noticed a kind of running theme in cover art lately that bugs me. I was in a Books-A-Million with Scott the other day and was trying to demonstrate this to him, but he didn’t buy it. Well he says he didn’t—he probably just wanted us to get out of the bookstore before I found something I had to have—but anyway.

If the book has the following on the cover it means:

Shoes = chick lit, whether it actually is chick lit or not. I really liked how Jessica Crispin over at Bookslut pointed out that the cover for the American version of Inglorious depicts a woman’s lower body and how her sandals have a broken strap, as clearly a novel about a woman having a nervous breakdown can be shorthanded to “broken shoe!”

A painting (assuming the book is not a biography and the painting’s subject is the same as the book’s) = pseudo-historical thriller, most likely trying to cash in on Dan Brown.

A country house, row house, other towny constructions = serial and/or “Christian fiction or romance” (smoochies as far as it goes, and at the end at that!)

A random object = weird thriller by someone you’ve never heard of and never will again.

Okay, I meant to have some deep thoughts somewhere in here but then found out the book discussion group just picked Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and I’m trying to think of reasons not to tear out my own eyeballs. Grr. Argh.

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