Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

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Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sun Devil Student » Fri Jan 01, 2010 8:53 am

So this question might have been asked previously in quizbowl history, but I'm new and wouldn't know. My question is specifically about certain works of literature (such as JRR Tolkien's works) which have been made into films.

For example, how would ACF classify a tossup on the novel The Fellowship of the Ring? This is a well known book that is more than 50 years old (the normal definition of "classic" literature...right?) but many teams would answer it off the character names and plot points by having seen the film without ever reading the book.

Ok, now what about questions on more recent books, like Twilight (who knows, this might become classic 50 years from now, it's just not yet) - what makes literature academic or not?

Normally, being made into a film shouldn't be a problem; a lot of prominent books have been made into films (e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird). But, if the film becomes too popular, does this transform an otherwise "legitimate/academic" literature work into "pop culture", ironically "trashing" a good book?
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Fri Jan 01, 2010 9:23 am

However many people ogle Darcy, Pride and Prejudice is still a work of literary value and will be in the literature distribution forever. No matter how few people ogle Edward Cullen, Twilight is still one of the worst romance novels my mother's job has forced her to try to read and will never be in the literature distribution. ("No matter how long it's been out" applies, too; the only effect time since published can really have is that in many borderline cases--like Tolkien, like others can elucidate better than I--we don't quite have the perspective at the moment to see if a work has consensus literary value, whatever that constitutes--and so we usually err on the side of assuming it's trash, in order to make our game a little bit more academic.)
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Fri Jan 01, 2010 9:58 am

Normally, being made into a film shouldn't be a problem; a lot of prominent books have been made into films (e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird). But, if the film becomes too popular, does this transform an otherwise "legitimate/academic" literature work into "pop culture", ironically "trashing" a good book?
No. A book that is truly literature remains literature no matter what they adapt it for.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Cheynem » Fri Jan 01, 2010 10:30 am

Twilight's pretty easy to classify--I think it's a lot more gray zone area when we deal with stuff like, say, "Pulitzer-winning trash lit" (Allen Drury and Mary Chase, anyone?), really musty crap like Beau Geste and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and more genre work (detective or science fiction, for example).
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sun Devil Student » Fri Jan 01, 2010 10:36 am

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:
Normally, being made into a film shouldn't be a problem; a lot of prominent books have been made into films (e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird). But, if the film becomes too popular, does this transform an otherwise "legitimate/academic" literature work into "pop culture", ironically "trashing" a good book?
No. A book that is truly literature remains literature no matter what they adapt it for.
Ok, good. So the only problem then is what counts as "truly literature." (I'm considering using Tolkien and/or Chronicles of Narnia as part of a 5/5 literature quota for a packet I may submit in the future. Can I?)
Sun Devil Student wrote: Ok, now what about questions on more recent books, like Twilight
Ok, Twilight was a bad example (I just put the first thing that came to mind, whoops), but at least some of the post-1960 stuff has to be "true literature" right? I'd think that Harry Potter, for example, is no worse of a novel (series) than any other high fantasy work, and that someday there might be academic scholarship on Harry Potter just as there is now on the Tolkien stuff.

So, how long do we have to wait before we can start putting recently written books into ACF literature? Is there a coherent set of rules for it?
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Susan » Fri Jan 01, 2010 11:07 am

Sun Devil Student wrote:
Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:
Normally, being made into a film shouldn't be a problem; a lot of prominent books have been made into films (e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird). But, if the film becomes too popular, does this transform an otherwise "legitimate/academic" literature work into "pop culture", ironically "trashing" a good book?
No. A book that is truly literature remains literature no matter what they adapt it for.
Ok, good. So the only problem then is what counts as "truly literature." (I'm considering using Tolkien and/or Chronicles of Narnia as part of a 5/5 literature quota for a packet I may submit in the future. Can I?)
Nope, but these are perfectly fine trash answers if the packet has a trash distribution to fill.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Susan » Fri Jan 01, 2010 11:10 am

myamphigory wrote:
Sun Devil Student wrote:
Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:
Normally, being made into a film shouldn't be a problem; a lot of prominent books have been made into films (e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird). But, if the film becomes too popular, does this transform an otherwise "legitimate/academic" literature work into "pop culture", ironically "trashing" a good book?
No. A book that is truly literature remains literature no matter what they adapt it for.
Ok, good. So the only problem then is what counts as "truly literature." (I'm considering using Tolkien and/or Chronicles of Narnia as part of a 5/5 literature quota for a packet I may submit in the future. Can I?)
Nope, put the kiddie lit in the trash distribution if there is one. This will get cut if it's submitted as literature.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Quantum Mushroom Billiard Hat » Fri Jan 01, 2010 11:12 am

I think some books just have a feel of being serious works, with some academic merit, and people can write on those whenever they are well enough known to be answered. I've heard The God of Small Things come up plenty of times, and that was written in 1997. I think I've heard The Kite Runner (2003) come up, and I know it has some academic merit since we read it in class a few years ago.

For me, "trash" books are just fun to read, while "literature" books are usually fun to read in addition to leaving you with something serious to think about when you are done. Like Andy said, when the border is unclear err on the side of calling it trash.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by theMoMA » Fri Jan 01, 2010 1:16 pm

It's just as important to limit borderline cases as it is to classify correctly things that are clearly trash. If your tournament is full of tossups on C.S. Lewis and Inherit the Wind, it's going to frustrate literature players just as much as anything else. A few borderline answers, done well, can enhance a tournament by testing for knowledge that doesn't always come up but should be rewarded.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Ondes Martenot » Fri Jan 01, 2010 1:55 pm

Hopefully this doesn't derail the discussion but why is Inherit the Wind considered trashy? I seem to recall reading it in high school...
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by AlphaQuizBowler » Fri Jan 01, 2010 2:48 pm

theMoMA wrote:tossups on C.S. Lewis
Would these really frustrate literature players? As long as you don't write on Narnia, there are a lot of Lewis works that would make enjoyable tossups.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by sycorax » Fri Jan 01, 2010 3:16 pm

I definitely agree that time since publication and whether or not it's been adapted shouldn't be the deciding factors. But I can't think of any solid rules for deciding definitely whether the borderline cases are lit or trash.

Ultimately, if you have to question its status, it's still trash.
And beyond that, you could use the rule for porn: there might not be a standard definition for good lit, but you know it when you see it.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Cheynem » Fri Jan 01, 2010 8:06 pm

I think the general idea of "academic" literature is more along the lines of "Hey, if I were studying American/British/World Lit in an academic/collegiate setting, like perhaps a serious survey course, would I study such and such books?" Clearly you wouldn't study Harry Potter in a British Lit course. You probably wouldn't study C.S. Lewis either, judging from my personal experience. Inherit the Wind always seems of more interest to social or cultural historians rather than actual literary scholars.

Like Andrew said, there's no real hard or fast rule. As a big big fan of musty literature, I generally try to push the envelope with at least one of my questions in my packet submissions. But submitting obviously kiddie lit is not a good idea, as is writing a packet riddled with borderline cases. In this sense, literature's no different than, say, music/fine arts. You wouldn't write a Raffi tossup for the music distribution, but you could write a Gilbert and Sullivan tossup (but not like a whole bunch of light comedy operetta tossups).
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Fri Jan 01, 2010 8:57 pm

For the purposes of practicality, if you're really not sure whether something will be considered trash or lit, you probably shouldn't write it for the lit distro.

As you gain more familiarity with what comes up in qb, you will generally be able to figure out what things are clearly lit, what things are borderline, and what things are clearly trash. Now, if you want to make an argument that something we currently label as trash should really be seen as academic (i.e. one Harry Potter)....you can do that, but I don't know how many people you'll convince. It's easy to make an academic argument that our standard is arbitrary, and I'm not sure many will disagree with that, but it's a standard nonetheless and it's fairly clear where a lot of things stand.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Not That Kind of Christian!! » Fri Jan 01, 2010 10:27 pm

Sun Devil Student wrote:
Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:
Normally, being made into a film shouldn't be a problem; a lot of prominent books have been made into films (e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird). But, if the film becomes too popular, does this transform an otherwise "legitimate/academic" literature work into "pop culture", ironically "trashing" a good book?
No. A book that is truly literature remains literature no matter what they adapt it for.
Ok, good. So the only problem then is what counts as "truly literature." (I'm considering using Tolkien and/or Chronicles of Narnia as part of a 5/5 literature quota for a packet I may submit in the future. Can I?)
Hopefully this packet either won't contain these questions or won't be submitted for a tournament played by people on these boards...
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Matt Weiner » Fri Jan 01, 2010 10:40 pm

I guess I'll reiterate my argument from the Bob Dylan discussion, which is that anything "academic," be it quizbowl or a course of university study, should encourage you to learn about important things in various cultures and disciplines that you would not otherwise encounter. You don't need to go to college to learn about Lord of the Rings and you're not teaching anyone anything about "literature" by including it in an academic packet. Broaden your horizons and find something more intellectually stimulating than a book you read in the fifth grade. Similarly, I think Melle Mel is a better writer than Sarah Orne Jewett, by a long shot, but he's still in the trash distro and she's still in lit, because we don't need to construct an academic competition to talk about popular music.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sun Devil Student » Sat Jan 02, 2010 1:39 am

No Rules Westbrook wrote:For the purposes of practicality, if you're really not sure whether something will be considered trash or lit, you probably shouldn't write it for the lit distro.

As you gain more familiarity with what comes up in qb, you will generally be able to figure out what things are clearly lit, what things are borderline, and what things are clearly trash. Now, if you want to make an argument that something we currently label as trash should really be seen as academic (i.e. one Harry Potter)....you can do that, but I don't know how many people you'll convince. It's easy to make an academic argument that our standard is arbitrary, and I'm not sure many will disagree with that, but it's a standard nonetheless and it's fairly clear where a lot of things stand.
Well, for new people like me, the problem isn't so much the arbitrariness as the fact that many of the things that are fairly clear to you are certainly not clear to new writers.
Matt Weiner wrote:I guess I'll reiterate my argument from the Bob Dylan discussion, which is that anything "academic," be it quizbowl or a course of university study, should encourage you to learn about important things in various cultures and disciplines that you would not otherwise encounter. You don't need to go to college to learn about Lord of the Rings and you're not teaching anyone anything about "literature" by including it in an academic packet. Broaden your horizons and find something more intellectually stimulating than a book you read in the fifth grade. Similarly, I think Melle Mel is a better writer than Sarah Orne Jewett, by a long shot, but he's still in the trash distro and she's still in lit, because we don't need to construct an academic competition to talk about popular music.
I didn't read Lord of the Rings in the fifth grade and I'm sure there are many others like me who never discovered it until college (and, isn't Tolkien found a lot in academic scholarship, unlike say Harry Potter?). That said, we can probably handle a rule that says "things which are read by X% of children will count as trash" (though this might exclude novels which had an *unintended* wide appeal to children, even when they weren't intended as children's literature).

The problem, though, is that you don't need to go to college to learn any literature (what can't you read on your own?).
Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:
Normally, being made into a film shouldn't be a problem; a lot of prominent books have been made into films (e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird). But, if the film becomes too popular, does this transform an otherwise "legitimate/academic" literature work into "pop culture", ironically "trashing" a good book?
No. A book that is truly literature remains literature no matter what they adapt it for.
Matt Weiner wrote:I guess I'll reiterate my argument from the Bob Dylan discussion, which is that anything "academic," be it quizbowl or a course of university study, should encourage you to learn about important things in various cultures and disciplines that you would not otherwise encounter.
These seem contradictory to me. Following Matt's line of reasoning, anything that becomes a blockbuster (either a really popular book, or a popular and accurately adapted film of one) would automatically become un-academicized, because it's no longer something that "you would not otherwise encounter". Charlie says it stays academic. So, what should a new writer make of this?

-----------------

So, in trying to pull some rules out of the responses so far, I'm getting three:

1) Children's literature, or literature intended for adults that accidentally appeals to too many children as well, go into the trash category. (for ACF, anyway. NAQT seems to count this as literature)
2) Things that you would study in a college class go into the literature (academic) category.
3) Borderline cases go into trash. (again, this applies to ACF, but not NAQT)
4) If we follow Matt's criteria, the second rule gets narrowed to: "2) things that you would study in a college class *and would not encounter in a typical life outside of college* go into literature."

Does that sound about right?

It seems paradoxical to me that these rules would academicize a lot of the science fiction genre and trash most of the fantasy genre, but I guess the patterns of the normal world don't apply to the quizbowl world. Actually, Matt makes it sound like the two worlds are being kept separate by design, but that's a different discussion I'm not really worried about. I'm just a new writer trying to know exactly what the limits are in ACF writing.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by theMoMA » Sat Jan 02, 2010 2:53 am

Borderline cases don't necessarily go into trash; editors and writers simply need to make sure that they limit their appearance in the lit distribution, otherwise players will have a distasteful experience with the set. You can argue individually that C.S. Lewis, Gone with the Wind, Inherit the Wind, Watchmen, etc. are "real" literature, and write or include an occasional question on topics like that. But if a set continually causes players to rehash a debate over whether a lit question is "real," it's pressing the envelope and probably frustrating literature players and students.

My suggestion is simply to test the borders in small doses.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat Jan 02, 2010 1:23 pm

In line with what Andrew said, my suggestion to new writers was that if you're unsure whether something is lit or trash (like CS Lewis) - generally avoid writing it for the lit distro. You can write 1 tossup or bonus out of your 5/5 lit quota on something like that, but try to limit it to that and noone will quibble.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Sat Jan 02, 2010 3:01 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:In line with what Andrew said, my suggestion to new writers was that if you're unsure whether something is lit or trash (like CS Lewis) - generally avoid writing it for the lit distro. You can write 1 tossup or bonus out of your 5/5 lit quota on something like that, but try to limit it to that and noone will quibble.
Yeah, I was mostly arguing from the perspective of submitted packets--since you were talking about the difficulty new teams might have and since most new teams aren't editing tournaments. Better to have a packet with eleven lit questions and one trash than nine lit and three trash.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sun Devil Student » Tue Jan 05, 2010 3:49 am

Crazy Andy Watkins wrote:
No Rules Westbrook wrote:In line with what Andrew said, my suggestion to new writers was that if you're unsure whether something is lit or trash (like CS Lewis) - generally avoid writing it for the lit distro. You can write 1 tossup or bonus out of your 5/5 lit quota on something like that, but try to limit it to that and noone will quibble.
Yeah, I was mostly arguing from the perspective of submitted packets--since you were talking about the difficulty new teams might have and since most new teams aren't editing tournaments. Better to have a packet with eleven lit questions and one trash than nine lit and three trash.
This sounds a lot like you guys would be ok with a new writer who sees this thread submitting a packet with 4/5 or 5/4 literature, 1/0 or 0/1 borderline and 1/1 trash in it, provided that the borderline one is actually an obvious borderline and not clearly trash (since you don't want more than two trash questions total).

It also seems like you guys don't have a clear resolution on the question of whether a work's popularity impacts its inherent level of academic/literary merit.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Cheynem » Tue Jan 05, 2010 11:12 am

I don't think there really is a perfect correlation between popularity and academic merit. Charles Dickens is one of the most popular authors out there, but he's clearly academic. Probably more people have read Shakespeare than Robert Jordan, but that doesn't make Jordan academic.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by cvdwightw » Tue Jan 05, 2010 3:41 pm

Sun Devil Student wrote:1) Children's literature, or literature intended for adults that accidentally appeals to too many children as well, go into the trash category. (for ACF, anyway. NAQT seems to count this as literature)
NAQT counts this as a subcategory of literature, but I believe there's a strict limit on how much of this goes in the set. Also, I think that "appeals to too many children" is a very difficult line to define - it's certainly not ridiculous to think that a silly little book about pigs taking over a farm appeals to a great number of children.
Sun Devil Student wrote:3) Borderline cases go into trash. (again, this applies to ACF, but not NAQT)
I think there's a limit on "impure" or "not-entirely-academic" literature, which children's literature is a part of.
Sun Devil Student wrote:It also seems like you guys don't have a clear resolution on the question of whether a work's popularity impacts its inherent level of academic/literary merit.
I think everyone agrees that the answer to that question is "no, a work should be judged on its level of academic/literary merit regardless of its popularity." The lack of clear resolution stems from a wide variety of opinions on what constitutes academic/literary merit.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Jan 05, 2010 3:42 pm

Sun Devil Student wrote:This sounds a lot like you guys would be ok with a new writer who sees this thread submitting a packet with 4/5 or 5/4 literature, 1/0 or 0/1 borderline and 1/1 trash in it, provided that the borderline one is actually an obvious borderline and not clearly trash (since you don't want more than two trash questions total).
I'll be totally upfront with you: I won't use anything that I think is borderline if I can use something that is not at all borderline instead. If you submit a question like that to any tournament I'm editing, I'll probably just toss it.
It also seems like you guys don't have a clear resolution on the question of whether a work's popularity impacts its inherent level of academic/literary merit.
A work's popularity has nothing to do with its literary merit; no one has ever suggested that it does. Even if no one had ever read Harry Potter it would still be trash, and if everyone walked around having read Ulysses it would be literature. There's no such thing as an "inherent" level of literary merit either, there are only accumulated judgments of serious readers.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Terrible Shorts Depot » Tue Jan 05, 2010 5:03 pm

I'm curious as to the feelings of the community towards very contemporary (i.e., released their most famous/important/best work within the past five years or so) authors with some amount of academic and/or critical reputation. I'm thinking of people like Aravind Adiga, I suppose. Are these authors and works literature or are they Your Choice as literary current events or do they fall somewhere in the middle?

edit: spelling, etc.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by TheKingInYellow » Tue Jan 05, 2010 8:04 pm

I personally think modern critically acclaimed authors are fine; I don't know a whole lot about Adiga, but toss ups on people like Pamuk, Bolano, or Adichie seem reasonable
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sun Devil Student » Wed Jan 06, 2010 1:57 am

grapesmoker wrote: A work's popularity has nothing to do with its literary merit; no one has ever suggested that it does.
Ok, not literary merit then, but I meant where Matt's earlier post
Matt Weiner wrote:that anything "academic," be it quizbowl or a course of university study, should encourage you to learn about important things in various cultures and disciplines that you would not otherwise encounter. You don't need to go to college to learn about Lord of the Rings ... Similarly, I think Melle Mel is a better writer than Sarah Orne Jewett, by a long shot, but he's still in the trash distro and she's still in lit, because we don't need to construct an academic competition to talk about popular music.
seems to suggest that we should limit "literature" to those pieces of literature which would not otherwise be encountered outside of college.

Should the quizbowl community exclude (from the literature distribution) works which are commonly found outside the college setting?
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jan 06, 2010 4:58 pm

Matt might be using slightly more specific wording than I would like, but I'd say, academic literature is the type of literature you study in a realistic college program. My mom doesn't have a college degree and she reads Dickens, but I do have a college degree and studied Dickens in my British Lit course. Guess what we didn't study in British Lit: J.K. Rowling. Similarly, my parents didn't go to college and read Mark Twain and Thoreau, but any American Literature course worth its salt would examine those authors and not John Grisham or Steven King.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Jan 06, 2010 6:55 pm

Sun Devil Student wrote:
grapesmoker wrote: A work's popularity has nothing to do with its literary merit; no one has ever suggested that it does.
Ok, not literary merit then, but I meant where Matt's earlier post
Matt Weiner wrote:that anything "academic," be it quizbowl or a course of university study, should encourage you to learn about important things in various cultures and disciplines that you would not otherwise encounter. You don't need to go to college to learn about Lord of the Rings ... Similarly, I think Melle Mel is a better writer than Sarah Orne Jewett, by a long shot, but he's still in the trash distro and she's still in lit, because we don't need to construct an academic competition to talk about popular music.
seems to suggest that we should limit "literature" to those pieces of literature which would not otherwise be encountered outside of college.

Should the quizbowl community exclude (from the literature distribution) works which are commonly found outside the college setting?
No, look, you're getting this wrong. What Matt's saying (as I read it) is not that we should restrict the literature distribution in the way that you suggest but rather that the literature distribution is about stuff that's important, serious, whatever your favorite metric for academic relevance is. I believe a few years ago there was a tossup on The Known World by Edward P. Jones; this is ok because this is a serious book with literary merit. You may or may not encounter it through classes, but likely not because it's just too new (or was back then, things move fast these days) to have entered the curriculum, so you'd be much more likely to know about it if you're the kind of person who reads the New York Review of Books. So the answer to your question is no, we should not exclude such works, because being found outside the college setting doesn't mean that it lacks literary merit. There's plenty of stuff that probably doesn't get read in college classes but is still serious literature (or at least tries to be) and I think ultimately, we should reward someone for the intellectual curiosity to seek that out. Reading LOTR on the other hand doesn't require any particular intellectual curiosity because it's a smash pop bestseller that's been around for decades.

There's no bright line that one can draw that's going to give you a rubric for deciding which work counts as literature and which doesn't. It doesn't work like that. There's a lot of stuff that gets studied as serious lit in classes, so that's in, and then there's a lot of stuff that's clearly just pop garbage. Yeah, there's some middle-of-the-road stuff like LOTR which isn't entirely worthless, but look: it's still mostly pop junk. When I write and edit literature questions I'd like to reward people who seek out serious literature, by whatever means they do that. Inevitably that's going to mean that certain things are going to be sacrificed to my personal sense of what I deem to be worthy; that's just how that goes.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jan 06, 2010 6:58 pm

The Known World is pretty cool, although I assume its greater legacy will be in serving up a common link "Edward Jones" tossup in the future.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by theMoMA » Wed Jan 06, 2010 8:18 pm

There's even been a tossup on All Aunt Hagar's Children. As long as we're talking about it, Jones is a really great author. I'd like to see some exploration of that kind of modern literature. It seems like good bonus parts could be written on people like John Edgar Wideman, Jonathan Safran Foer, William Vollman, etc.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:22 pm

Yeah, Edward P Jones got popular a little while ago at high-end events, probably for good reason (and probably too cause Yaphe thought he was groovy, who can tell). The process of deciding which modern authors are worthy of coming up next (that is, which are "serious" enough) at any given difficulty level is an interesting one. It definitely requires some judiciousness, but in practice, I think it often just boils down to which authors the "qb powers" think are the bees' knees (not that this is an awful thing, those powers are often pretty knowledgeable and fair in their choices, but it's something to think about).
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sun Devil Student » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:25 pm

grapesmoker wrote:doesn't require any particular intellectual curiosity because it's a smash pop bestseller that's been around for decades.
Maybe this isn't what you meant, but I'm still seeing an implication, however it's explained (in terms of "seriousness" or "importance" etc), that being a "smash bestseller" is considered auto-disqualifying. Is that because there's an inverse correlation between intellectual curiosity and mass appeal? If that's the case, you could just say so and clear it up for all the new players. (I suppose the normal ACF warning against going overboard in picking very-obscure answers would still apply here, though.)
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Not That Kind of Christian!! » Wed Jan 06, 2010 11:06 pm

Sun Devil Student wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:doesn't require any particular intellectual curiosity because it's a smash pop bestseller that's been around for decades.
Maybe this isn't what you meant, but I'm still seeing an implication, however it's explained (in terms of "seriousness" or "importance" etc), that being a "smash bestseller" is considered auto-disqualifying. Is that because there's an inverse correlation between intellectual curiosity and mass appeal? If that's the case, you could just say so and clear it up for all the new players. (I suppose the normal ACF warning against going overboard in picking very-obscure answers would still apply here, though.)
I think all Jerry's saying here is that reading Lord of the Rings doesn't require much special exploration or effort, and it doesn't have the novelty or intellectual depth (sorry, Tolkien fans) to compensate for that.

Modern smash hit authors who use their writing to make some sort of social or intellectual or artistic statement can easily be construed as fit for the intellectually curious (and thus for quizbowl, I presume) because of the latter characteristic, not in spite of the former. Jhumpa Lahiri's works are best-selling, much-anthologized, et cetera and so forth, but she comes up; the very popular and popularly acclaimed Michael Chabon comes up.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by The Atom Strikes! » Wed Jan 06, 2010 11:32 pm

I'm actually curious about the general question of genre fiction. I'm not talking about something like tossing up Robert Jordan (god forbid) or even somewhat meritorious but completely popculturally ubiquitous authors like Tokein. But what about a contemporary author of deep, intellectually engaging speculative fiction-- somebody like say, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorrow, or Neal Stephenson? All of these authors have written works that require more than a baseline level of understanding and knowledge to truly appreciate (Accelerando, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and Anathem spring to mind as examples from each of these authors). So, should authors like these be includable? And, if not, what justification should be given for their exclusion?
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:28 am

Sun Devil Student wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:doesn't require any particular intellectual curiosity because it's a smash pop bestseller that's been around for decades.
Maybe this isn't what you meant, but I'm still seeing an implication, however it's explained (in terms of "seriousness" or "importance" etc), that being a "smash bestseller" is considered auto-disqualifying. Is that because there's an inverse correlation between intellectual curiosity and mass appeal? If that's the case, you could just say so and clear it up for all the new players. (I suppose the normal ACF warning against going overboard in picking very-obscure answers would still apply here, though.)
No, I never said that being a best-seller would be disqualifying. "Pop" is the operative word here. In bizarro land where everyone and their kid brother reads Heinrich Boll, Billiards at Half-past Nine is still a literary work. Fortunately we don't have to worry too much about bizarro world because people don't actually buy good books en masse for the most part. For the most part, they buy pablum and terrible pop junk. So yeah, I'm going to be somewhat suspicious if your packet's lit distribution looks like the top-10 Times bestseller list. Most serious literature doesn't make it there because most serious literature requires way too much thinking for enough people to go out and buy it. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen ever, though.

Sorry to get all confrontational here, but what exactly is it that you want? I feel like I'm playing a semantic game here and that you're trying to trap me into giving you some kind of metric. I can't do that, I already said this, and in fact, I don't think anyone can. That's just not how literature is. If you want any kind of definitive pronouncement, I'll give you this (from my own personal stockpile of opinions): literature consists of serious works that address serious issues in serious ways. Read that however you want.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Magister Ludi » Thu Jan 07, 2010 1:47 am

Heres the deal. There is no exact way to define what is serious "literature" and what is not. I find it ridiculous that some people in this thread seem to be conflating contemporary literature with trashy literature. No matter what definition we use there will always be countless books and authors that blur the line. For contemporary literature we don't have the benefit of the canon to guide our decisions so we have to rely on informed experts within the field who will hopefully steer things in the right direction. Popularity has nothing to do with a book's literary importance; books such as The Road or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay are worthy of questions regardless of the fact they are best-sellers. Moreover, academic study is also an insufficient criteria because there are always oddball classes teaching trashy books or movies (unfortunately Harvard is offering a class that compares Mean Girls with House of Mirth next term).

I've found the best criterion is to think about what a book is trying to accomplish and what the audience reading that book is usually taking away from it. For example, LOTR seems to be primarily interested in the dense mythology it creates; Tolkien's archaic diction and plodding prose style make the literary goals of the novel subservient to the philological and mythological goals of the book. In other words, Tolkien seems to be more concerned with creating an engaging and dense mythical world rather than producing a well written and structured novel. Furthermore, the readers of LOTR seem to focus on its fantasy and adventure aspects rather than its literary merits.

I would make the following suggestions to people who are struggling to understand the difference in between LOTR and Heinrich Boll:
1- If you are someone who is a little unclear about the line between literature and trash you should err strongly on the side of writing very academic literature. With more experience comes a better feel for what types of books are generally classified as trash.
2- Avoid writing about contemporary literature except for obvious cases (i.e. Nobel Prize winners or figures such as Pynchon or Delillo of unquestionable importance). For example someone in this thread offered Kite Runner as an unassailable example of real literature; however, I would strongly dispute this distinction as I find that novel nothing more than silly book club fodder. This just exemplifies how nebulous classifying contemporary literature for quizbowl questions can be. While I think Denis Johnson wrote the greatest book of short stories published in the last twenty years, I will probably never hear a question about him and that is ok. But, I think the question of contemporary literature should be addressed in another thread where I'd like to build upon Westbrook's point that contemporary literature coming up in quizbowl is too dependent on the taste of top players.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Matt Weiner » Thu Jan 07, 2010 7:01 am

Volvo Effect wrote: But what about a contemporary author of deep, intellectually engaging speculative fiction-- somebody like say, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorrow, or Neal Stephenson?
No questions on anyone who's been an XKCD punchline more than once, please.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Susan » Thu Jan 07, 2010 10:32 am

If you're having a hard time deciding whether an answer on which you're writing for a given tournament is literature or trash, you can always email the tournament's editor before you bother writing the question. At least that way, you won't be writing stuff that will automatically get cut.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sir Thopas » Thu Jan 07, 2010 1:03 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
Volvo Effect wrote: But what about a contemporary author of deep, intellectually engaging speculative fiction-- somebody like say, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorrow, or Neal Stephenson?
No questions on anyone who's been an XKCD punchline more than once, please.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Jan 07, 2010 2:30 pm

Sir Thopas wrote:No questions on anyone who's been an XKCD punchline more than once, please.
Goodbye Feynmann diagrams, then?
You probably shouldn't be writing Feynman diagram questions anyway, as they tend to suck.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by fluffy4102 » Mon Jan 11, 2010 5:40 pm

AlphaQuizBowler wrote:
theMoMA wrote:tossups on C.S. Lewis
Would these really frustrate literature players? As long as you don't write on Narnia, there are a lot of Lewis works that would make enjoyable tossups.
However, some could claim that these questions find a better fit in the religion distribution.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by AlphaQuizBowler » Mon Jan 11, 2010 6:21 pm

fluffy4102 wrote:
AlphaQuizBowler wrote:
theMoMA wrote:tossups on C.S. Lewis
Would these really frustrate literature players? As long as you don't write on Narnia, there are a lot of Lewis works that would make enjoyable tossups.
However, some could claim that these questions find a better fit in the religion distribution.
I mean, works like Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce deal with religious themes, but they are not intended as serious theological works; they are fiction.
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Re: Where is the line between "literature" and "trash"?

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Jan 11, 2010 8:58 pm

Yeah, to make sure people are clear, religion questions in quizbowl should deal with facets of a religion that are canonical to their belief system (and this includes heresies to regular beliefs, since there are people who legitimately believe those "heresies" are canonical), not to speculative fiction by people who don't actually believe that their writing is religiously true: A question on The Screwtape Letters is not religion because neither the author nor anybody else actually believes there is an apprentice devil named Screwtape, even if it has a theological tone, whereas a question about another work with a theological tone, City of God, can be asked about in religion because there are people like St. Augustine who believe in the truth of its arguments.
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