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What Makes a Book a Work of Literature?

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by -Carlos-, Aug 28, 2007.

  1. -Carlos-

    -Carlos- New Member

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    Merrian-Webster defines "literature" as: writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.
    • So what modern-day novels fit into this definition?
    • What authors in the past twenty years have created works of literature?
    • Do writings have to be old to qualify as literature?
    What are your thoughts?
     
  2. beer good

    beer good Well-Known Member

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    All of them, all of them, and no?
     
  3. -Carlos-

    -Carlos- New Member

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    Why shouldn't it be narrowed down to a selected few? For example, in colleges and universities across the nation only specify books, in my estimation, are regarded as appropriate for class discussion and analysis. In other words, works of literature.

    Isn't this true?
     
  4. sparkchaser

    sparkchaser Administrator and Stuntman Staff Member

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    Let's use the whole definition:

    3 a (1): writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest

    Based on that definition, Kurt Vonnegut would surely fit. Slaughterhouse-five definitely fits into that definition.

    Further, ALL authors would be considered literature; however, speaking to your edit of the definition, I am sure there are several contemporary authors whose works would be considered literature.

    I think a writing being old surely helps qualify it as literature since one could tell whether the ideas expressed were of a "permanent or universal interest".
     
  5. sparkchaser

    sparkchaser Administrator and Stuntman Staff Member

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    I don't know about that. My English professor had us spend an entire quarter reading and discussing one of the worst books I had ever read.
     
  6. beer good

    beer good Well-Known Member

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    "Especially" doesn't mean "exclusively".

    As to the other points, since we're all about defining here; that definition isn't 100% clear. It opens up a bunch of other questions such as
    1) how much excellence of form or expression?
    2) as defined by whom? as measured how?
    3) what qualifies as an idea of permanent or universal interest?
    4) How permanent? How universal?

    etc. Even by that definition, I could gladly argue that any book from "Where's Waldo" to "Finnegan's Wake" matches even your definition.

    Also, age cannot come into it. That would imply that the exact same book is not literature up until it reaches a certain age, at which it magically becomes literature overnight.

    As to WHY we would need an exclusive definition of literature... I still say it's not nearly as important as being able to define WHY certain works hold more quality than others. Just like I'm not going to use a narrower definition of "food" or "music" to exclude Big Macs and Bon Jovi - it's much more interesting to try and explain why a good meal or a great record has so much more to offer. What would be most useful to learn in school; a well-defined list of works that are considered "literature", or a way to learn to recognize quality on your own?
     
  7. -Carlos-

    -Carlos- New Member

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    I see your point. :p
     
  8. sparkchaser

    sparkchaser Administrator and Stuntman Staff Member

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    Ah, the classic question: what is art?
     
  9. beer good

    beer good Well-Known Member

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    Paul's friend. Sang lead on "Bridge Over Troubled Water". :p
     
  10. silverseason

    silverseason New Member

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    When I go to the car dealer, the slick young man almost immediately says, "Here, let me give some literature." Almost any written word has value to someone for some purpose. Is this discussion about good writing or classic writing or longlasting writing?

    I had a standard English major course in college. We read Shakespeare and Milton and Wordsworth and Henry James, none of which I now regret. But, as an education, it was not sufficient. We weren't asked to judge whether we should be spending our times reading these works versus others: we read them because we were told to and we were told to because they were the standard of good literature. Turned loose into adult life, do we go on reading only the Elizabethan poets, or do we have some grasp of how to choose what to read in the great literary bazaar?
     
  11. ScottHughes

    ScottHughes New Member

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    I think every book is a work of literature. The writing on a street sign isn't literature, but any book is literature. All authors put a lot of time and effort into their books, and they all have value.
     
  12. abecedarian

    abecedarian Well-Known Member

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  13. unKeMPt

    unKeMPt New Member

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    Then again, there's food and there's "cuisine."
     

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