Good Literature: What is it?

Being an English major, the conversation of what good literature actually is has come up on more than one occasion.

If you look up the word literature, you’ll find many definitions, the most basic being that literature is the art of written language. Yet, you don’t find most people discussing the latest Dan Brown or Jodi Picoult novel and calling the piece literature. Now, before anyone gets offended, I don’t mean to say these novels aren’t entertaining or enjoyable, but there are many who would argue that these authors and their novels are not on the same level as, say, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Twain (and the list goes on).

Harvard literary scholar, Marjorie Garber, has said that, today, literature is “a status rather than a quality. To say that a text or a body of work is literature means that it is regarded, studied, read and analyzed in a literary way.” Yet, using this definition, books like Twilight or The Hunger Games (both of which I read and enjoyed) would be considered literature, since many of my English major friends have read these texts in courses where they studied and analyzed young adult literature.

The point I’m trying to make here is that figuring out what literature is can be frustrating, and along the way, many people will give you different answers. And maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t really matter. For me, reading is about finding that flow and experiencing that moment when you look up from a good book and realize that hours have passed, the sun has gone down, and, still, you keep going. And that means that what is considered a good read can be different for everyone.


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