What is literature? How can we define it? Looking in the dictionary it is defined as ‘written artistic works, especially those with a high and lasting artistic value,’ and ‘all the information relating to a subject, especially information written by experts.’ Applying these concepts to the books we read on an everyday basis, who can really tell if they are worthy of high and lasting artistic value? We tend to judge written works through our personal tastes, which means it is a very subjective opinion most of the time.
All of us may be used to associating literature with what we learn at school, the big names we remember like Hemingway, Jane Austen or Victoria Woolf. Sometimes we look for the same high standard of literature in the books published today. But is it still possible?
Entering a book shop today, we can find any kind of writing; novels, cookbooks, art books, biographies and many others, all different from each other, but, in some way, all linked by the umbrella term of literature. The quality of literature is hard to define, especially since we are not all critics and do not have the tools to analyse and give a judgement. What we do know, is that new kinds of written works have entered the literary circle.
The first form that comes to mind is aimed at a relatively young audience, and are produced by their idols, favourite YouTubers or Instagrammers. Many of them (probably as a marketing strategy) decide to go to print, which is then successfully advertised and sold thanks to the author’s fame. Some have argued that these types of works cannot be grouped under the umbrella of literature, for the quality does not stand high enough; after all they are often written by teenagers or young people in their 20s.
These people, who may be called ‘modern authors,’ rarely have any background preparation or academic record to support their writing, so are doubtful as to whether they can enter the literature circle.
The truth is that the percentage of people interested in reading has decreased in the last 50 years. Today we have many more ways to keep ourselves entertained: television, video games, social media, and so on — which have caused reading to become something considered secondary, or even blasé. Particularly young individuals prefer to spend their time doing something idle, as opposed to exercising their logic trying to understand the message authors want to send through their words.
When a 15-year-old girl enters a shop and sees the last book released by her favourite YouTuber, whom she has followed for months and never missed a video, she is very likely to be intrigued and purchase it. The quality of what she bought in terms of writing, style and also content cannot be compared to what we found say in the nineteenth century; a completely different depth and way of thinking.
Neither is it true that today’s books are abysmal, albeit the direction they are heading in is worrying. We are fortunate enough to have some good and passionate writers in the present period as well, who have trained and studied the art of composition worth being regarded as literature. Unfortunately, up and coming writers are often conflated with the thunder of new releases, together with the mass of futile publications, losing the recognition and the attention they should get and deserve.
Surely the digital and modern era puts big pressure on marketing strategies, one of them being the process of writing and publishing a book to generate revenue. Though does this justify the decline of quality literature? I think it is not. Literature, a centuries-old form of art, is favouring young influencers at the cost of seeing its prestige and tradition diminished. Let’s give literature back to real authors, while leaving influencers to their own domain — social media.
By Cinzia Appetecchia
Image: by Seika via Flickr