What’s “Real”?

Recently, my daughter’s English teacher ragged on her for reading manga and comics. The teacher told my 13 year old that graphic novels and comics weren’t real literature and shouldn’t be brought to school. That got me thinking, what constitutes “real” literature?

Literature is defined as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” The definition raises a few questions for me.

Does “real” literature need to be in book form, written with only proper, formal English? Does “real” literature only discuss subjects considered by elite English professors to be relevant and worthy topics? Do these elite professors then send a note down the wire to inform the rest of the world what “real” literature currently consists of and then give a list of instructions for how to make people who read anything else feel like uneducated fools? If so, then “real” is still subjective. “Real” in that sense is defined by a group of people who aren’t able to (or maybe just don’t want to) step out of their own comfort zone.

Or maybe “real” literature consists only of reading material that teaches the reader something. If so, then a person can learn about sports form a sports themed romance novel. A reader of a Japanese comic can learn about Japanese culture. A person can learn about history, science, and a thousand other subjects and facts all through fiction as long as the author has researched the subject matter and given accurate details.  But does a story always need to teach facts? Can we learn without learning specific facts? Whether it’s a Spiderman comic, a murder mystery, or a historical romance novel, anything a reader wants to read should be considered “real” literature.

What makes a book come alive for a reader? Now that’s a better question. The element of a story that resonates with a reader could be the situations a character deals with. Readers might learn that they are not alone in the things they have dealt with. Does the story need to be in some sort of preferred format for that to be relevant? I’m thinking not.

The moment the written word makes someone question everything they thought they knew can come from a so many types of books.

I don’t have a formula for what equals “real” literature but I think if kids are reading, maybe we should just be happy and encourage them. They might have a comic book in their hand one day and be reading Dante’s Inferno on a different day. What’s “real” is the love of reading.