Posted by: chartroose | April 3, 2008

Lit-Ra-Chur — Booking Through Thursday

  • bookthur.jpeg
  •  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 don’t like these questions because they make me think too much.  Thinking is bad! 

When someone mentions the word “literature,” the first thing that pops into my head is that he/she is one of those “lit snobs” that I try to avoid whenever possible.  I mean, come on, who says “literature” anymore unless they’re middle-aged spinster high school English teachers who are so outdated that they believe in courtly romance and wear girdles to bed? 

Yes, I do think of Dickens, Tolstoy and Shakespeare when I hear the word, and I also occasionally read Dickens, Tolstoy and Shakespeare for fun, so literature doesn’t intimidate me.  It’s the classification of literature as being superior to other written works and the implications of this attitude that gets to me.

In its original form the word literature simply means a body of written work that defines a culture or a period in time.  Somewhere in our not-so-distant past, someone decided to change it a bit and throw “artistic value” into the definition.  This is quite irksome, because that’s when the judging started, and where there is judgement, there is inequality.  So we now have a bunch of novels that are considered to be “great literature” based on the opinions of a group of so-called experts.  A lot of absolutely brilliant novels are not considered to be “literate fiction,” in fact, they are either lambasted or totally overlooked and not considered at all!  Labels suck!

My favorite novels of all time are in the fantasy genre (and no, they aren’t the Lord of the Rings trilogy).  In my opinion, these novels are great literature because they beautifully illustrate everything that makes us human: our quirks and cruelty as well as our humanity and heroism.  If you’d like to find out more about them, go to this website.

I guess I’ve ranted long enough.  Down with the totalitarian hegemony!   

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Responses

  1. Great post!! I totally agree, I think. First I have to go to dictionary dot com and find out what hegemony means.. but after that, I’m certain I’ll agree 100%! Labels suck.

  2. Yeah, I’m right there with you. I don’t read “literature”; I read books. Or poems. Or whathaveyou. Magazines of somewhat trivial nature, even (GQ, for example).

    Interesting thing about Shakespeare, and his synonymity with “literature”; if you think about it, he never meant to. Shakespeare wrote plays, and mostly wrote them down simply so his actors would have lines. He never really meant for them to be read, as such, but rather performed.

    There’s an old argument/hypothesis that, if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be a screenwriter. Of that I’m not certain either way, but it’s an interesting thought.

  3. Hi Lisa and Will,

    I love you both! That’s all I have to say for now…

  4. Ha ha, you said literature! You wear a girdle!

    I just wanted to tell you that my son is in love with your header and your blog title. Right now, he’s going around saying, “There are some who call me…. Tim?”

    I’m trying to figure out your currently reading book. That cover looks so familiar.

  5. Dew, I laughed so hard at your son’s quote that a bunch of saliva flew out of my mouth and spattered my knee. This disgusting event made me roar so much that I had to run to the bathroom. Now I’m back and trying to compose myself.

    I think I like your son. Tell him to stay away from the cave.

    The book is “Charity Girl,” by Michael Lowenthal. I’m almost finished with it.

  6. *claps* I love everything you said.

    “In its original form the word literature simply means a body of written work that defines a culture or a period in time. ”

    This is still what the word means to me. I just cannot conceive of another definition. I mean, nobody goes as far as saying that even the most forgettable pop music is not at all “music”, or that the comedy of the summer that year cannot be referred to as “cinema”. How did we get to this state in the written arts?

  7. Great post, fun comments… I know I’ve said it before – LOVE your attitude.

  8. Just as others have said…great post, great attitude!

  9. Nymeth, I’m putting you on my blogroll. Care & Jan — I already have you on my blogroll! Thanks to all three of you for your great comments. I love all of your attitudes too!

    Oh, and Nymeth, great reply. I never really thought of it that way. We aren’t nearly as elitist about movies and music. Maybe “art films” are for movie snobs and “opera” is for music snobs, but they are still classified as movies and music. Interesting!

  10. When I teach the Introduction to Literature course (and no, I’m not a middle-aged spinster high school English teacher who is so outdated that I believe in courtly romance and wears a girdle to bed), I try to show my students how writing fits on a spectrum, but that the spectrum isn’t a straight line, it’s more of a circle. We tend to think that if a piece of writing is financially successful, it must not necessarily qualify as literature. We also think of literature as being the work of a writer who cares nothing for making a living at this work, and even less of the praise of critics.

    While commercial fiction and literary fiction have some differences by contemporary definition, they are not mutually exclusive terms. I think part of the problem has come from the fact that our lives have become so flooded with information, we look to simplistic lables to help us make sense of things more quickly. It may not be a fair assessment, but it is convenient.

    As far as reading, I just like a good story. I want believable characters whether they come from Georgia or the year 2125, or Narnia, or Middle Earth. I want a plot that engages me mentally and emotionally and keeps me turning pages to find out what happens next. I find Sophoclese compelling, but I also enjoy writers like Alison McGhee and Alice Sebold.

    That’s my nickle’s worth – you can keep the change.
    Kim J.

  11. kwj –

    What an outstanding comment! I think you’re right; we tend to use “simplistic labels” because there’s just so much information out there.

    I recently read on another blog that Stephen King’s “The Stand” is # 2 on readers’ lists of all-time favorite books. Is “The Stand” considered to be “literature”? Should it be?


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