Editorial: Literature is more than just the classics


Banned books are contested books that have been removed from school curriculums or public libraries due to content.

Editorial Board

Reading is one skill all people will need to be successful in life no matter their jobs or where they end up, but more than that, it’s used to enjoy the art of literature.

Literature, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “writings in prose or verse; especially: writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.”

However, that definition blocks out many works from being included in the definition and thus those pieces are wrongfully viewed as lesser. That definition leaves out groups of work that are loved by many young readers and readers that find most classical literature to be challenging to read, creating an elitist world where only certain works are worth reading and anything else can disappear.

We as the Iowa State Daily Editorial Board believe the definition of literature needs to be expanded as a way to encourage more people to read and feel confident and proud about what they read.

One group of works often singled out for young readers or readers who do not necessarily connect with older literature: YA, or young adult. This group of works is generally described as “books written for an audience of 12-20 year olds.” However, it may also include books primarily written for adults but which have appeal to younger readers.

These books include things like the “Harry Potter series,” the “Hunger Games series,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” Even though all of these books are usually household names and known among many readers, none of them are listed as literature or counted as literature with the definition we listed above, which is what we disagree with.

Not counting these books or any other YA books as literature tells young readers and adults who love to read these books they “aren’t good enough” or “are childish” when they choose to read these books over classic literature.

What we want to get across about reading is people should enjoy what they read and if classic literature like “Great Expectations” and “Dracula” frustrates or bores people to read then we don’t think people should be forced to read them just to have “good taste.” 

In a blog post on the Odyssey website, Lindy Smith from the University of Pennsylvania said “You know what a lot of these books are, boring. They are so freaking boring. I’ve read some things by Hemingway and Voltaire and Shakespeare and Viktor Hugo and all those other super fancy authors, and, not all, but most of the time, I want to beat my head up against a wall because I am so freaking bored. These books have archaic language, page long sentences and extremely slow plot lines. So why are they considered so fabulous? I don’t understand it. Is it just because they are old? Is it because someone somewhere said, ‘This book is so obscure and difficult to read that it must be a masterpiece?’” 

“Well regardless of what it is that makes these horribly boring books so special, none of it is not enough for me to succumb to reading them,” Smith said. “When I do get the precious time to read a book, I want to read something exciting and dangerous, not something that I need the dictionary beside me to understand. I want to read young adult novels.”

That quote from Smith says everything and more about what many young people feel about classic literature. We want something we connect with, we want something that reflects the current world, we want something modern and enjoyable to read and most of all we want to be able to read whatever we want without being shamed for it.

Another group of works that fits the same criteria we have been discussing are graphic novels. Graphic novels are simply a novel in comic strip format, meaning there tends to be more pictures than words. Once again, we believe these works deserve just as much praise and attention as YA and beyond classic literature.

According to Karen MacPherson, the children’s and teen services coordinator for the Takoma Park Maryland Library “Comics are especially beneficial to struggling or reluctant readers, as well as English-language learners. These books also offer all readers a way to practice important reading skills such as building vocabulary, understanding a sequence of events, discerning the plot of a story and making inferences. And comics give young readers training in visual literacy — helping them read and interpret images — an essential skill in our highly visual world.”

As with what we said about YA before, graphic novels are an important category of books for many readers, especially readers who have trouble getting into other forms of literature. Even though many of these books tend to be more pictures than words, they tell the same stories and connect with readers the same way regular novels do and should be respected the same way.

But there is the argument only certain works should be considered literature because it’s an art form and only high brow works should be considered as such. We acknowledge that argument. Not all works are written to the same standard and not all works can stand the test of time like what many classics are seen to do.

However, this should not discredit the work of authors who have put their time and effort into creating worlds and characters for people to enjoy. Every book and every poem IS a piece of art. Similarly to how a painting by a high schooler in art class and a painting by van Gogh are both art, even if they are not at the same level. But it is also important to remember there are people who enjoy the high schooler’s art more than van Gogh’s just the same way someone may enjoy YA more than classic literature.

We believe all written works are literature and should be considered as such, because what is most important when reading is the enjoyment of it. If you cannot sit down and legitimately want to read, then what is the point? Find something you like, whether it is Homer’s “Odyssey,” a Batman comic or “City of Bones” and read it.

Care not for what others tell you about a book, because as long as you like it and it keeps you interested, it is literature.