I made a post last week about the status of “literature” and the connotations that word brings. I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations with friends about the issue since then, and I thought I’d make a couple additions to my position.
First I’d like to clarify that I have nothing against what is termed “literature”–or, in this case more specifically, “CanLit”. But what’s being defined as “CanLit” (“overwhelmingly reflective, personal and not ripped from the headlines”), what people call “literature” and what appears in bookstores under “Fiction” or “Literary Fiction” is simply another genre, just as Fantasy or Mystery or Romance is. I have no problem with this genre as another genre. The problem is with calling this genre “Literature”–because then it contrasts that to all other writing, and implies in its connotations that no other writing is worth the paper it’s printed on. As I mentioned before, though, the word “literature” can define basically any fiction writing, and it’s all equally as valid.
I also had a conversation about one of the the last statements I made, regarding entertainment for entertainment’s sake. The argument was made that this might be too forgiving–that there are enough entertaining “empty calories” out there, and that writing should enhance the reader in some way, whether intellectually or emotionally or whatever. A reader should leave with something they didn’t have going in.
But I would suggest that most writing, even that which is pulpy and entertainment-heavy, gives you something to take away, something to think about or some change in the reader. (Or perhaps I could say, most good writing, but that starts to bring value judgments into the discussion.) Rare is the writing that does not enhance the reader, and so I think it’s unfair to look down upon those books that are mostly entertainment.
Now, if a book isn’t entertaining, or isn’t stimulating in some way, then it could be considered “bad.” There are books I don’t like. I think all stories should contribute something to some discussion somewhere. And we could discuss for hours the various merits (or lack thereof) of any book. And perhaps some books could even be considered bad because the things they contribute to the discussion are regressive (I’ve heard this argument regarding Twilight). But that’s a different discussion entirely.
As I’ve said before, my issue is solely with value judgments based on genre. Just because it’s not considered “literature” by the “literary” elite does not make a book bad.
Bad writing makes a book bad.
(Endnote: I encourage discussion! Please comment if you’d like to add something to the conversation.)