Monday, June 22, 2009

What is Literature?

When I was in graduate school, I remember my professors always lamenting the fact that the majority of books sold in the United States could not be classified as literature. I admit. I was once among those who made those accusations; however, the more removed I am from sheltered academic life, and the more entrenched I am in the trappings of every day life, I find that their opinions about literature are stuffy and aristocratic.

A couple of years ago, when I was selling windows, I met a fellow and his wife who desperately needed new windows. As I talked to them, I learned that she was an art professor at a local university, and he was a writer. At that time, I'd already published a book, so I was interested in finding out what he wrote. She told me quite nobly that he wrote "literature," and "it was not to be mistaken with the crap that is sold in the bookstores." I translated that to, "he hasn't been published yet, but he writes well." What took me back, though, was the snotty attitude she had. She was very academic, as you can tell, and she probably couldn't believe that her window salesman had published a book too. I didn't tell her that my book was an academic book. They eventually bought my windows too.

So, as I'm reading a best-seller from the 1980's called "Marine Sniper," I ask myself: what is literature? Well, I'm happy to say that we should not listen to the high-brows. There's more to literature than Faulkner and Hemingway. Writers didn't just fall off the face of the earth after Frost died. They're still here, and they're writing for an ever-expanding audience. It's good that people still read, and I'm happy to say that books still sell by the millions, even if it is not considered literature by university-types. Trust me, in the future, that trashy novel you're reading right now might be this century's Marquis de Sade. You never know.

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