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What Makes Literature Great? The Readers!
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What Makes Literature Great? The Readers!

Little Willie found a stick,

Thought it was a candle wick,

Lit it up to his delight,

Blew him to pieces—twas dynamite!

That is not great literature written by a great author. It is a Little Willie rhyme written by me. There are thousands of these and I loved them as a kid. They are not attributed to any author that I know of. Every body and his dog has written one but now they appear in tomes such as 10,000 Old Jokes You Never Heard Of.

Such is not great literature except to an old man likes me who likes to go back and read what he liked as a kid like, I Was a Headhunter and Jimmy Microbe.

Much of what is great literature is tedious to read or down right boring to most people. Such literature is called the Classics. The Bible is considered great literature, which is what it is, but all in the Bible is not like the Book of Ruth, Job, or the Gospel of John, or even the Book of Acts. Some is horribly repetitious and downright boring.

The Revelation, perhaps taken from three early tracts (much taken from Daniel), is not understood by many people, even some of those who think they understand it. Is it a classic or just a curiosity?

Maybe one definition of a Classic could be that your English teacher made you read it. Tolstoy and Homer and Shakespeare and other such great writers could be on your list. Poe is another winner.

I remember as a kid we were told to read the Lance of Kanana by Harry W. French where a boy shepherd wins his father's respect by recovering a stolen caravan. I read every word of my literature book but I could not stomach the boredom of that story. The teacher loved it.

I hear students suffering all the time because of some book assignment. They put it off to the end and finally go to the Internet to see if they can grab enough stuff to write a report while they burn the midnight oil.

If the book were worth their reading, they would be much more eager to read it. It is the teachers job to inspire their students to read and just passing out a required reading list is not enough. I had teacher once in junior high school who read to us most days. We loved to have her read to us and we learned to love the good stuff she was reading.

Some think that you have to get used to great literature, especially the classics. Some suffer through it long enough to write an M.S. or Ph.D. thesis writing about what someone else wrote instead of writing their own original stuff. They become teachers and make you read the stuff you hate.

I once had an assignment in a speed reading course to outline a book. I was no kid. I had just come back from fighting a war where I was a 19-year-old infantry platoon sergeant and I didn’t need a stupid assignment. I just grabbed a book with a detailed table of contents and submitted that. I think it was about John Fremont’s explorations of the West. Maybe the instructor thought with all our fast reading ability we could get a job outlining books.

Now days I hear parents complain about reading assignments like Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel by D. H. Lawrence who has her ladyship, wife of an invalid, drift into the shack of the estate game keeper who puts flowers on her bare belly.

It seems that parents have read every controversial book in existence and they say, “I don’t want my kid reading that trash. Let’s go down to the library and rip it off the shelf and burn it in the street.”

Book burning is a great past time of dictators.

My definition of great literature is that it is the stuff that makes the best seller list because it has been accepted by a large group of readers. I know you can say that the Sunday comics and Parade Magazine is great literature. You can also say that what I’m calling great literature is next years trash and will not be called classical.

How true.

Hemingway was great because he was an artist with words that read like paint, a perfectionist with great stories to tell. Ole!

Jack London was like Hemingway or rather, vice versus, with great adventure stories. You could hear ship timbers creaking or feel your feet freezing.

Robert Lewis Stevenson was great because he appealed to children with his adventures. (He died, never being well one day of his life, but he said that if the never got out of bed because he was sick, nothing would be accomplished. He is one of my heros.)

Steven King is great because he tells a good yarn and delves where others don’t go. But I personally think that the Shawshank Redemption was his greatest novel, although short, and the movie was a perfect portrayal of the novel. His writing is excellent but I don’t always dig his stories.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is read far and wide. I don’t like that kind of stuff myself but about everybody I know does.

Tom Clancy is a prolific writer who likes to write about he CIA and the military. He gets technical but sometimes overly simplifies things for we tech types. Publishers hire committees to help writers put out more stuff. That may be what they are doing with Clancy. James A. Michener wrote a lot of good stuff in his early days before we were bombarded with historical fiction with the staff digging up information by the ton. These fat-book writers lose my interest as soon as the publisher moves in to push for quantity.

J. K. Rowling, a woman with a man’s name demanded by her publisher, wrote at least seven Harry Potter novels. I can’t stand them myself but they are loved by young and old. She is now writing mystery novels and her first one will soon be out.

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Series which my wife’s care giver’s son said is about kids killing kids. That is what he said. He says it is very well-written. His mother says it is futuristic SciFi. Not for me but fodder for many.

Writers write, readers read. Each does as they please. To me, if the story is not my cup of tea, then no matter how good the actual writing is, I’m just not reading it. The writer must tell me what is going on in the first couple of pages or I’m gone.

When I wrote a novel about Nazis in America, I didn’t know exactly what the story was. I read the first draft and chucked it into the garbage can, not relying on it a reference. I knew the story and I just sat down and rewrote the book.

My point is that if there is no compelling story, forget it. Dump it!

I did just that when I wrote a novel years ago. I wrote seven boring chapters and dumped it because the story was not there.

I don’t write long stuff any more, just crummy articles like this. I have to write and that is it. But I miss the characters bugging me to let them take over the book. When I wrote a western saga, one character was so strong, I had to downplay him to make sure the action was focused on my protagonist. I wrote a new novel starring this character.

I would tell you the names of those books but the editors here would reject the article because of self aggrandizement. I said that I no longer write novels. I’m 80-years-old. I’m not building a career.

The book market has changed, many folks having moved to ebooks which are convenient and less expensive. Authors have a tough time promoting their books. Celebrities have ghost writers write their books and ten they call Leno and Letterman and other talk show host and get their books on the best seller list.

But there are those special writers who have people standing in line to get their next book. One successful book can put a writer in an enviable seat. Meanwhile, we can make our selection and enjoy the word of literature.

Little Willie found a story,

Of a knight and all his glory.

And even though he could not read.

He used the broomstick as his steed.

Note: There are thousands of wonderful books that have never been published. Publisher can only publish so many books each year and they know what type of book they are going to publish before they ever receive a manuscript from a writer.

John

TJ Books


Street Talk

This is my last article for the Internet. I have written about 1000 articles and that is enough. I'm too old to write the way I want to write and editing is never to my satisfaction as I tend to read over errors. There are a couple of errors in this article that you can remember be by. So to the editors of Street Articles and EZA and the other sites I have written for you have my thanks. All have been patient. I will still write but only on my Squidoo lenses and my websites. Adios, Amigos!

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  about 6 years ago
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