What is literature? – a nice easy question to get this blog started…

Some best-loved books in my collection

Some of my best-loved books – but do they count as literature?

Jane Yolen describes it humorously as ‘a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood’ – catchy, but perhaps not altogether definitive. A quick search of some popular online sources gives definitions ranging from Wikipedia’s short and sweet ‘the art of written work’ to Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit’ . This then raises the question of who considers them superior or lasting. For those contemplating studying English at university it can often be bewildering to realise that favourite books are not considered ‘literature’. To me, for example, Rumer Godden’s works are hugely important for the role they played in developing my love of literature. Well-written and witty, they absolutely made me realise that ‘You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.’ (Great soundbite, F Scott Fitzgerald.)

For the purposes of this blog I think it is important to keep the definition broad – the work has to be published in the UK, originally in English, and the person blogging about it only has to to demonstrate that, for them, it has artistic merit. I’m reminded of a competition run by the Scottish Book Trust in 2009, which encouraged people to recommend ‘The Book That Changed My Life’ and thereby illustrating the power of the written word to deeply influence people.

As I work in literary heritage education (at The Wordsworth Trust, since you ask) I hope to be drawing on the knowledgeable enthusiasm of my colleagues at various Lit Houses, as well as some friendly literary bloggers from the interweb (you rather spring to mind, Stuck-In-A-Book…)

Each post will look at a different author or literary work and signposted a few bits of further reading or viewing. As this post doesn’t really give you much literature to get your teeth into, let’s start with a look at the building blocks of literature – the language. Some marvellous folks at the Open University have made this handy little 10-minute video guide to English – enjoy!

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