Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Thousand Points of Lit

A to Z BLOGFEST - click "next blog" or "surprise" button on sidebar for more "A to Z"ers

L: Literature

I was never an English Major.  I was a theatre major, an education major, and even that last refuge for the truly undecided: a communications major.  For some reason, though, I never tackled the big E.  I loved books and thought myself a writer-to-be, but I never thought to go that route academically.  As a result, I only took the basic English classes, and my only Literature class besides the theatre-related classes like Shakespeare was American Lit 101 (or however they numbered it).  As a result, I never got the academic deluge of literary theory that most writers get. 

Comic from Check ‘em out.

Does it make me a lesser writer?  I don’t think so.  If I am a lesser writer, it’s because of my talent level, or because I don’t spend as much time as I should on it.  It’s not because I didn’t spend my twenties reading critical essays on Dickens or analyzing the use of the letter “R” in Thomas Hardy’s later works.*

One thing I did lose in the exchange, though, was my ability to discuss the ins and outs of literary theory with any kind of intelligence.  In fact, I struggle to answer the basic question: what is Literature?

What makes a book literary as opposed to just a good book?  Beats me.  I can give you examples: Moby Dick, Fahrenheit 451, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay, and can give you examples of those that are just good books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Watership Down, The Shining, American Gods.  What I can’t tell you is why.

Does it matter?  For practical purposes, no, not really.  I don’t have any designs on writing literary fiction; I just want to write good fiction that people enjoy.  As for reading, my tastes are eclectic, and I really don’t care what others think of them.  I’ll read Terry Pratchett if I want, or I’ll read James Joyce.  Actually, I like to switch between quick reads and things a little more challenging.

Anyway, not being able to offer a concrete definition hasn’t adversely affected me or my writerly pursuits so far.  Maybe there is no true definition after all, maybe it’s as subjective as art.  I read a comment on another blog that argued passionately that The Hunger Games was literature.

So at least I’m not the only one that doesn’t get it.

* I made that up, but there’s probably a book out there.


  1. I am always trying to figure that out. LOL As computer science major, I probably took less lit classes than you. Not the literary works I had to read in class, but works that I personally enjoy and love. Sometimes it's impossible to say why I love one story more than than another, what qualities makes it stand out. I haven't figured it out, and I am not sure there is an answer, but it is still something I go back to every so often.

  2. I was never one for getting deep into literary theory. If I like something, cool. If not, eh, move on. Basically I just read and write what I like. I have no interest in dissecting why one book is good or better or worse than another.

  3. I think you are perfectly spot on with your question, "What is literature?" And that makes you literary to me- someone who does not accept an experts ideas blindly but who continues to think independent of influences.

  4. I don't think literary theorists are trying to figure out why one book is "better" than the other. They are interested in something more complex than the story itself. They're looking for what "makes" a story - the structure, the language, the composition, the movement. But then, I'm a graduate student in history and I'm taking a theory course and it's just too much sometimes. It's deep! I never realized how much philosophy is woven into history as well as literary theory.

    So the next time you ask yourself "what is literature", know that I'm asking myself "what is history?"

  5. I am a switch reader too. What some called a holiday or beach book follows the more challenging reads.

  6. I'm for whatever moves me and entertains me on a given day!