What is good literature? And who decides if it’s good or bad?
Did you ever really stop to think about it? I think having blogged on two book reviews I thought were incorrect, I got to thinking about this question a lot this week. I can’t speak for other people, but I can tell you what I think is good literature, and I can sum it up in one sentence:
When I’m reading it, I have a hard time putting it down …. That’s good literature.
There are those that would say being a top seller makes it good literature. It might be an indicator of sorts, but I believe the Bible is the top best seller of all time. Now, I read my Bible, but I’m not sure I’d classify it as so good I couldn’t put it down (Sorry, God, but I’m being honest here.) I mean there are a lot of great stories in the Bible, but as a read through, well, it leaves a little to be desired.
Shakespeare is considered great literature, but I don’t enjoy reading him. The language is too much of a barrier for me to really be able to enjoy curling up in bed with any of his works.
I graduated with a degree in Art History, and in my experience, I can tell you that the one thing I learned in my four years of college is that something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. I’ve seen “works of art” that I thought were nothing but splotches of paint on a canvas sell for millions, when I didn’t think it was worth the price of the canvas it was painted on. The person who bought it thought it was worth that much. Is literature the same way? Someone might pay millions for some first edition of a book I don’t think is worth the paper it’s printed on.
Who’s right and who’s wrong?
Both and neither.
I think I’ve come to the conclusion that being a book critic is about as useless as being an art critic. Tastes are subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I don’t even think you can bring it down to something as simple as technical merit when it comes to art. Art will always be subjective in all of its forms.
And yet I find this depressing …
Yes, I do find it depressing. This would be because I strive to write great literature. I want people to not be able to put my books down because they have to know how it ends. But I write romance books with a twist, and there will always be those who dislike the romance genre, that believe that anything in the romance genre will never be great literature. I find people who say such things snobs. I also say they’re ignorant. Is Romeo and Juliet great literature? It’s a romance though … How about the Bible? Samson and Delilah? Adam and Eve? David and Bathsheba? I hate to break it to you but the Bible is full of romance. Jane Austen? Romance takes many forms and writing an entire genre off because it’s not your bag is just wrong. And yet so commonly done today.
Well, enough of my rant for today. 🙂
Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novels and If Love is a Lie: Finding and Losing Love Online