The Definition of Literature

The city I live in, lovingly called “The Bubble” by its residents, has an annual book club event in the spring called One City, One Book. Past books have included Farenheit 451  by Ray Bradbury and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

This year the book chosen for the event was The Mountain Story by the incredibly talented Lori Lansens. Lori is one of my favorite authors. She writes unique, compelling stories in gorgeous prose. Her writing gets to the heart of human emotions and her books always stay with me for a long time after I’m done reading them.

Looking for a great read? Look no further!


Lori is a local resident so there was a real opportunity to have several One City, One Book events that started with a launch party where the book was sold a week before its release, a library event and finally a book club meeting a few weeks later held at our library. The city put a lot of publicity and effort behind the event and it was quite successful.

Do you want to hear something really cool? I’m actually friends with Lori. I met her years ago at the beach through a mutual friend after I was already a fan. Can you imagine what it’s like to meet one of your favorite authors and become friends with her? (I don’t have to imagine – I know! And it’s awesome!)

Anyway, Marley said to me the other day, “Mom, when your book comes out next year you can do One City, One Book.”

I smiled and said, “That’s sweet, honey, but my book would never be picked for One City, One Book.”

“Why not? We live here.”

“Yes,” I told her, “but you don’t have to live here for them to choose your book. My book is not the right kind of book. Lori’s book is literature; my book is a funny beach read.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Aren’t all books literature.”

Um… No.

“Not really,” I said. “There are lots of different kinds of books. Books that are literature not only tell a good story, but do so with beautiful writing. My writing is funny, but it’s not beautiful. Also, literature often has a deep meaning or complex theme. My book is not deep; there’s not much to discuss. Other than, you know, how freaking funny it is!”

“So do you mean that literature has big words?”

“Not always,” I said. “In fact, I think the best literature makes small words have big meanings.”

She looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“I’ll give you an example. Think of the John Green books you’ve read. He tells a great story with many layers in beautiful, quotable language. Someone who writes a book about kids with cancer that people actually want to read, and writes things like, ‘As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once,’ is writing literature.

“Now think of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Those books are great and incredibly funny, but they’re easy to read and aren’t very complex. I’m not saying that John Green is better than Jeff Kinney, both of those writers are among the best at what they do, and both of their books have value. But Diary of a Wimpy Kid ain’t literature.

Hilariously funny. Not Literature

“So Lori Lansens is like John Green and you’re like Jeff Kinney?”

“Well, Lori Lansens is like John Green. I aspire to be as witty as Jeff Kinney.”

“I still think your book could be in One City, One Book.

“Well, that would be awesome, but I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.”

She shrugged.



(If you’ve read this John Green book, then you know that in the right context writing an exchange as simple as “Okay? Okay.” is truly literature.)


12 thoughts on “The Definition of Literature

  1. I loved you and your writing before you introduced me to Lori Lanssens and I love you now. This is a fantastic way to describe two worthy (wonderful) types of books, two worthy different reading exoeriences.

    I can’t wait until I can use FROSTED COWBOY as the actual example and tell people I’m friends with one of my favorite authors, too.


  2. Darling, Charlene,

    I loooooooove your descriptions and definitions of “Literature!”

    Here is my favorite example of true lit from Nabokov: “if a violin string could ache, i would be that string.” –Lolita

    OOOO, my blood gets warm.

    Love you & love The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, too!! xxxx

  3. I read this book last summer and loved it. I have passed it on and it is making it’s way around Michigan. Great choice for the Library.

  4. Dearest Charlene,
    Thank you for the lovely, generous and humbling shout out. Your novel, Frosted Cowboy, is a hoot, and romp, and who cares if it’s not “literary”? I love that Marley is so proud of you – she should be. It’s a feat to write a novel! You need to start your brand recognition now – mention the name of your novel – often. I’m looking forward to seeing the cover art for Frosted Cowboy. What is the release date for Frosted Cowboy? Will you write the screenplay for Frosted Cowboy when the book is made into a movie?

    • I just love you Lori. You are the BEST!
      Frosted Cowboy will be out on February 8. (I’ll sign a copy for you!) 😉
      And yeah, I do have to get to work on that screenplay. (Frosted Cowboy would make such a funny movie, right?)

  5. Lori has the right idea. I have been rolling my eyes at people who bought tickets for the opening night of the new Star Wars movie, but for Frosted Cowboy? I would do it and be the first in line. It’ll be my “One House, One Book” selection when I can finally hold it in my hands!

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