I've read through this thread a couple times now and I'm still having trouble finding anything approaching an objective definition of the term. It seems to be shorthand for "writing I like," or possibly -- and I realize this is as much in need of definition as the original term -- "highbrow" or "serious" literature.In short, in some ways it feels like people are using it to look down their noses at other fiction, cf. the "ghettoization" of genre fiction described upthread. I spoke to the friend who introduced me to the term tonight, asking for clarification. She said she doesn't like the term, but her signpost for the distinction boils down to what the reader cares about, or is supposed to. Is your processing of the book fundamentally about the events happening in the book? For example, a lot of fantasy readers consider George R. R. Martin pretty well written. But when Martin writes about a war, what you care about is the war. How is the war going? Who's winning? Have bad things happened to characters I care about? Compare to your mental picture of what constitutes "literary fiction." There are plot events happening, sure. I don't know if any of you have read Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake -- I read it when Amazon picked it as an editor's pick a few years ago. It's a magical realism novel about a girl who develops the ability to taste the emotions of whoever made the food she eats. (It's quite good, I do recommend it.) So that's what's going on on the surface. As my friend said -- I'm paraphrasing here -- girl develops magic emotion tasting powers, whoop de fucking doo. The point isn't the events, it's about the themes and ideas being explored. The plot is a vehicle. Critically, there's something going on under the surface and the plot is a means to that end. I'm still kind of groping my way towards a better definition. I'm not sure if this one covers too much, or covers too little, or both, or if this definition is entirely unhelpful. Thoughts welcome.