- When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
- Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
My first thought is to shudder and remember my Spanish Lit. class. I like Spanish, and I do decently well with reading Spanish literature, but I had this professor who sucked all of the fun out of learning by making us memorize dates and facts instead of learning or speaking Spanish. In fact my extreme dislike for him made me switch colleges (he was the ONLY spanish prof in the college, if you can believe it).
Aside from Spanish lit, I never took any English, writing, or literature classes in college (which I regret deeply now). The last time I took an English class it was my senior year of high school, and we did a mix of literature, writing, and grammar. So the word "literature" also brings back memories of books and short stories that I read and analyzed in that class. I enjoyed some of them more than others, but for many of the readings, I didn't "get" the story until I had taken time to analyze it and pick it apart a little. Analyzing literature seemed so scary, but we had a great teacher, so I remember getting into the analysis. So when I think literature, I define it to myself as books that can stand up to being analyzed. Books I don't think of as being "literature" are ones that don't really hold up well to analysis (chick lit for example).
When I read a good book and I feel like there's more to be gotten out of it, I head over to sparknotes.com for an analysis. So we could also define "literature" this way: if its got an analysis on Sparknotes.com, then it's literature. Although that probably sounds silly to define literature by a tool that historically been a way for students to get out of reading literature, if it isn't being assigned by professors, it isn't on sparknotes.com.
With that as a broad definition (and I am one for making "literature" a broad term) I would say read plenty of literature. Sometimes it is pure pleasure reading, other times I need a little kick to read it. My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge, for example, has been an excellent kick in the pants for me to read books I wouldn't normally place high on the priority list.
I enjoy books on different levels. Sometimes I enjoy the fact I'm done with them (finally), sometimes I enjoy them on a cerebral, appreciate level (boy that was well-written and I feel so educated right now) and sometimes I enjoy a book so much I will stay up late reading it and I won't want to put it away for anything and I'll try to force my husband to read it immediately.
I've had "literature" reading experiences that fit into any of the three categories. So yes, I did enjoy Great Expectations, but there were times it was a drag to read. The Poisonwood Bible or Ender's Game, however, were of the "keeping me up at night" variety. As far as "literature" I avoid, maybe someday I will get around to picking up Don Quixote or The Old Man and the Sea, but it would probably take a literature course to make me do it.