Thursday, April 3, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Literature

Today's BTT question is a good one. It's one I've had to think about before answering.

  • When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
  • Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
I think when I was younger, I would have responded with Shakespeare or Dante because that's what the professors in my college courses tended to assign as literature. To some extent, being an English Lit major was detrimental to my reading because it led to a "snobbish" view of more current books. Luckily, I took a Women's Literature class which expanded my view of literature to Virginia Woolf and a variety of really good women poets. The thing I've noticed is that the books that are deemed "literature" in college courses seem to have universal themes and are not always recently published. That may well be a disservice to new books because literature studies have to continue to evolve.

Now, I read a variety of things but don't really think about if they are literature or not. For example, I love many of the novels of Margaret Atwood and Isabel Allende. I would consider them literature because they are extremely well-written and deal with universal themes through amazing character and plot development. I also enjoy books by Janet Evanovich and Marcia Muller. Would I classify those as literature? I'm really not sure. For me, literature is so well-written that it helps to define something about the human condition. I really believe many of our current authors, including Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood, will continued to be called literature in 100 years.

I've read my share of "literature" during college. I would be surprised if anyone read The Inferno or Moby Dick for pleasure. I don't pick books because they are, or aren't, literary. I read books that entertain me. Sometimes I tend to read more serious, well-written stories, and other times I select more light-hearted fare. There are many works of literature that are among my favorite books, including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath. I think The Book Thief can easily join that list for its quality and humanity.

I'm very interested in what other people are saying about this one. Feel free to chime in and let me know what you think.


kristen said...

Great post! I just finished McCarthy's The Road today and was amazed... We seem to be on the same wavelength regarding "literature"! I'm a fan of Woolf, too... Feel free to check out my BTT post at http//

Presbyterian Gal said...

That is a really good question and your answer is thought provoking.

I'm with you, I would have said Shakespeare and Jane Austin in the past, but there are such good writers now. I would include Gabriel Marquez with Isabel Allende, and Anne Tyler with Margaret Atwood. Though I think Atwood's work is superior.

Trish said...

This question is really interesting to me and I've had fun browsing the answers. I certainly thing Atwood and McCarthy would be considered literature NOW. Janet Evanovich? Maybe not. I can feel what's literature, but I'm not sure I can define it (at least, what I consider literature from my perspective)

kristen said...

Yes! I agree that we readers can "feel" literature even when we can't define it -- which is probably why it is such an interesting topic!

trish said...

So perhaps we could equate literature with pornography...difficult to define, but we know it when we see it! ;-)

J Scott Savage said...

In today's authors I tend to shy away from "literature" because it seems to mean little plot and lots of purple prose. I like good story first and good writing second. I'd like to go back to a definition of literature as great stories with great writing. Otherwise literature tends to become just another genre.