Thursday, April 03, 2008

BTT: Literature

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?

What do I think of? It's odd to try to sort out quite honestly. I hated "literature" in high school because of all the required reading, the tests, the quizzes, the essays, the teachers who were so emphatic in finding MEANING in every little detail. Symbolism. Yuck. I rarely "liked" or "appreciated" anything I was exposed to at that time in my life. But fast forward just a few years, and I'm deciding to become a Literature major. Talk about turn around. The quizzes. The tests. The essays. The research/analysis papers. Suddenly aren't yucky to me. They're all part of the joy that is reading and writing and discussing "literature." In college, I read certain classics for fun--Les Miserables, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, Cyrano de Bergerac--and other classics because they were required--Frankenstein, Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, Jude the Obscure, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Don Juan, Hamlet and Othello, etc. Just to name a few. Short Stories. Novels. Essays. Poetry. A bit of everything. Mostly British. But not exclusively.

Some I loved; some I liked; Some I was praising God that they were over. I would never willingly go back to visit Lord Jim or Jude the Obscure. But others like Frankenstein and Their Eyes Were Watching God I would consider some of my closest book-friends.

The label "literature" or the label "classic" can be confusing. You can't make it mean just one thing and have it work consistently. It can't be:

literature = a good, enjoyable book
literature = boring
literature = irrelevant
literature = too difficult to comprehend
literature = better than any other reading material out there

It's a little bit of everything. Some books can be written in such a way that it takes work to decipher the action. But some are as straightforward as can be. And boring and irrelevant (or interesting and relevant) are such subjective, personal labels.

I don't like literature snobs. I don't. Folks that think that science fiction and fantasy are 'evil' and destroying or corrupting the reading public. Folks that think it has to be old and obscure to be 'good.' Or 'modern' and obscure for that matter. Contemporary 'literature' is more abominable to me than anything else. What passes as literary art these days.

But I don't agree with those that lump classics all together and say good riddance either. I like reading classics. I do. I'm reading Fanny Burney's Camilla right now. I like Jane Austen. I like Elizabeth Gaskell. I like plenty of others--they are seeming mostly female at the moment--but I like "some" but not "all" is the point I'm trying to make. I'm not a Hemingway girl. I'm not. Nor Faulkner for that matter.

I read what I want to read. No one 'makes' me read anything these days. If I read Austen or Dickens or Bronte or Tolstoy or Shakespeare, it's because I decide I want to do it. I want to give it a try. I may or may not end up loving or liking it if I'm trying someone new. But I like to try.

I guess I associate the term literature with the classroom. Books. Teachers. Studying. Tests. Quizzes. Essay questions. Whether you like that sort of thing depends on you. Classics would be in my opinion those books that have stood the test of time and been judged by a collective body of some sort to be 'worth keeping in print' and 'worth studying.' Or perhaps just worthy of reading again and again. Worthy of being recommended again and again.

The definition of literature:

1 archaic : literary culture
: the production of literary work especially as an occupation
3 a (1): writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (2): an example of such writings literature, was always a roaring good story — People> b: the body of written works produced in a particular language, country, or age c: the body of writings on a particular subject literature> d: printed matter (as leaflets or circulars) literature>
4: the aggregate of a usually specified type of musical compositions

1 comment:

Jeanette said...

Wow! I loved reading this. You made several greats points that I agree with. One of the things I like about being done with school, for now, is that I can read what sounds good to me and not what is required. I think that is something I will miss when I do go back to get my masters degree. I'll have to set my choices aside for school. If I am lucky I will have lots of good required reading! :-)