‘Literature’ is a very broad term. The way I see it, literature can be almost anything.
Literature is novels, short stories, poems, autobiographies, online fanfiction, magazine articles, online articles, graphic novels, web comics, artworks…
Literature is all of this.
Not everyone would agree with this, however. There are some people who would say that actually, ‘literature’ is only long pieces of written text which are ‘good’. (That means novels and some short stories which people, over a long period of time, have decided are ‘good’ and must be read by everyone). Think Shakespeare, the Brontes, Austen, Orwell, To Kill a Mockingbird, and On the Road. Indeed, the featured image of this blog post is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which is regarded as a classic novel (fun fact: by some definitions, it is regarded as the first ever novel).
What counts as ‘real’ literature? Is it the ‘classics’, the works which are deemed as Canon by some seemingly arbitrary force? Why are we all mostly able to name ‘The Greats’ of literature? What makes them so great? Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of ‘classic’ literature and I too aim to read as much of the Literary Canon as I can, but what actually counts as part of this canon? What are the criteria for this high esteem? Who decides if and when a text or author should be praised as one of the ‘greats’ or snickered at as ‘fluffy’ and ‘casual’ reading?
The only ‘worthy’ forms of literature aren’t just those which are considered to be part of the Literary Canon. You are not less of a reader for, for example, choosing to read a young adult book even though you are older than the ‘young adult’ age range. Reading lengthy, book-length fanfiction certainly should count as reading just as much as reading a lengthy, book-length published work counts.
And what counts as actually reading? Do you have to be physically looking at words and words alone, or can you ‘read’ an image? (I say yes, you can read an image).
In this blog post, I definitely am not saying that my view and mine alone is the only correct ‘definition’ of literature. Rather, I am just sharing my understanding of the concept. Earlier, I was thinking about a post I wrote a few days ago about whether I think audiobooks and ebooks really count as reading. Writing that post and thinking about it led me to thinking about other media for storytelling and different genres too, which ultimately led me to writing this post.
So, what do you think ‘counts’ as literature? Do you think that ‘literature’ should be defined as only a small group of texts, or are you like me where you think that all texts, in their own way, contribute to literature? Feel free to comment what you think in the comments section down below.
Thanks for reading!
2 thoughts on “What counts as ‘Real’ literature?”
Thanks for the post — this is actually a topic I am very passionate about! I used to work at a children’s lit non profit, and a lot of what we did there was try to push against the idea of “real” literature. A huge issue in modern high school english classes is that reading lists are not being updated with modern/contemporary works. Of course, you want to encourage students to read classics, but you also need to provide literature that allows them to connect on a more personal level if you want them to KEEP reading outside of school. And I think if it has words, its reading 🙂 graphic novels, comics, magazines, textbooks, novels, blogs, etc!
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Yes I totally agree with you on that! Thanks for commenting, Jenna!