Great Literature

Now, I read a lot.  I know, big secret.  But, online social media being what it is, there are websites that will quantify that.   I tend to track my reading through Goodreads, where you can track your books, list what you’ve read and when you’ve read it, and interact with friends online about what you read.

I try to read about a book a week.  Call it fifty books a year.  More than the average for an American, but I know several people who read more. That’s cool.  I’m happy with how much I read.

Fifty books a year is a lot.  Well, it looks like a lot until you look at what I’m reading.  Some of it is Serious Literature, or Serious Non-fiction.  That tends to be history, biography and cultural analysis, with a bit of self-help and motivational thrown in.

Otherwise?   I read all over the place.  Science fiction, fantasy, sentimental late 19th century stuff that probably had yellow covers when it came out, children’s literature, YA, classics, men’s adventure, horror, you name it.

With that experience, I find myself impatient with people who are necessarily proud of themselves for only being into Great Literature.  Is there such a thing?  God, yes.  But it’s simpler than people think

Great Literature is Great Literature because a lot of people over a long period of time read it, loved it and took it to heart.   Can we analyze why this is so?  Again, God yes.  Can we predict if something new will become such?

Not so much.  It takes time.  Harry Potter is a great example.  People have loved it and it’s a phenomenon.  Will people love it 100 years from now? Dunno. I would say I doubt it.  A lot of its charm is the juxtaposition against late 20th century life.  I could also be dead wrong. People still love Dickens, and a lot of his work requires an understanding of the times.

It’s about the love that people put into it over time that makes Great Literature.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


2 Replies to “Great Literature”

  1. *This* is why I got impatient with my high school literature teacher for telling me that Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels were not high brow enough literature to read for a review in her class. We were doing what were essentially book reports and I wanted to look at them from a critical literature point of view.

    There are whole *societies* dedicated to the Holmes stories…and were when I was in high school.

    I completely agree that “great literature” is its endurance and belovedness with time.

  2. I make a bit of a distinction between “classics” and “great literature” ™.

    For me the former fits the criteria you’ve listed; the latter has its value independent of audience or of the individual works which comprise it; it may vanish, or be known only by hearsay, or only in translation, or not known at all: surmised from indirect evidence or experienced for an instant in a kind of waking dream — it isn’t entirely knowable under any circumstances, now that I come to think of it. I find myself confined to the apophatic whenever I try to think about it in any detail. It shares with ‘hard-core pornography’ the definition provided by Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it”… not very satisfactory, but there it is. I guess it’s a day for mysticism.

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