Today's BEA topic of conversation is 'literature'. Hop over to the website, to see Suey's (from It's All About Books) response.
What do you think of when you think of literature? Classics, contemporary, genre, or something else entirely?
When I think of the term 'literature' I can't help but compare it to how the word 'genre' is often used. On the one hand we use 'genre' to divide books into categories like Gothic, Paranormal, Romance etc. However, there is also the idea of genre fiction. This is usually used for "popular fiction", itself a questionable term, which are plot-driven and want to fit into a certain genre. For example, Twilight would be considered genre fiction because its plot very clear pushes it into the Paranormal Romance genre. However, rather than just being a classification, 'genre fiction' is often used as a judgement on a book as well. Although I'm not a very big Twilight fan, not at all really, I wouldn't go as far as to call it trash because it is still a book that can be enjoyed by others. The reason I've gone on this slight tangent is because I feel it will explain the opinion I'm about to give on the term 'literature'.
I quite honestly admit I am at times a terrible culture snub. In many ways I can't help it that I've been raised to appreciate classic literature and classical music. However, I also very much enjoy going out dancing to Kesha's 'Timber'. Where the snobism comes in, unfortunately and often accidentally, is that I'll say that obviously Mozart is better than Kesha. I do the same thing to books. I call books 'literature' when they have, in my eyes, reached a certain level of proficiency and have made an impression. Other books I call 'fiction'. To stick with the example made above, I would not call Twilight literature but fiction. Yes, the books have proven to be very popular but I doubt they'll survive the years. Already they're being pushed aside by new series, although this of course doesn't mean it hasn't got very dedicated and loyal fans. Besides this I think there are serious plot and character development issues which, for me, prevent it from being literature.
However, I don't just apply the term 'literature' to books I like. I would call Dickens' novels literature even though I find them terribly hard to deal with. I have only read Hard Times and afterwards decided to avoid all the modules at university that want to make me read more of his works. The reason I would call them 'literature', then, is because his novels have managed to capture a certain time spirit, a cultural change in England, and still resonate with a lot of people. And it can't be said that, at times, he writes very beautifully. His characters have become stereotypes and England would be different without his novels.
What are your thoughts on literature?