What is your definition of "important" when it comes to literature?

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Using Jude's suggested beginning, An important work of literature would be one that...influences other writers. The more others are measured by that work, and the harder it makes subsequent writers go to back to the way things were done before, the more important the work.

Hammett certainly qualifies, as does Chandler. Ed McBain also comes to mind, for essentially creating the police procedural. Similar stories had been written before he came up with the 87th Precinct, but he set the standard everyone else had to live by.

I think that I know what the next novel is about, but one never really knows, of course, until it's finished.

Love that!

An important work of literature would be one that...influences other writers.

Probably true in general, although we would then have to include titles like The Da Vinci Code...

 

influences other writers . . . in good ways.  :)

In the end, it all boils down to what the writer wants. 

Influences artistically, not commercially.

Yes, and this is why so much in the mystery/thriller genres is so bad - the writer knows what it's about from the very beginning, it's about catching the bad guy. If the theme is weak (or not thought through) then the obstacles to catching the bad guy are random and don't add up to anything.

And quite apropos to the topic, a quote from a study on brainscan of rappers quoted on PASSIVE VOICE:

 

“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity,” says Braun.

. . . .

influences other writers . . . in good ways.

Influences artistically, not commercially.

Who's to say what is "good," and "artistic"? I read the first chapter of The Da Vinci Code and then set it aside, but whatever I would have to say about it would only be my opinion. Apparently millions of people loved it.

I'd say that for the purposes of this discussion it's the intelligentsia--authors, critics, publishing professionals--that determines what is good or artistic. The reading public by and large doesn't care what "important" literature is. They care about what's popular is all.

Back to the old topic:  "Nobody knows what's good.  If it's 'my opinion', you're not allowed to argue with it."

 

Just like anything else man-made, books should be judged by those with the most thorough knowledge of books and experience in the field.  You may, of course, set parameters for the type of book in question.  But average readers don't qualify just because they have a few bucks to buy a book. Neither should the judgment be based (as it is by publishers and agents) on what sells the most copies.

I'd say that for the purposes of this discussion it's the intelligentsia--authors, critics, publishing professionals--that determines what is good or artistic. The reading public by and large doesn't care what "important" literature is. They care about what's popular is all.

Just like anything else man-made, books should be judged by those with the most thorough knowledge of books and experience in the field.

Your answers remind me of that commercial where a family is discussing who should get the most data on their cell phone plan. "The one with the least cartilage in his left knee." :)

Sorry, but I'm not going to allow any sort of scholar to determine what is good to read, any more than I would allow a world famous chef to determine what is good to eat.

Authors, critics, and publishing professionals often disagree about what is "good" or "artistic." It all boils down to one person's opinion, and in the end the only opinions that matter come from the folks shelling out the dough. Since there are no definitive objective criteria for what is good or bad, the reading public ultimately decides.

Anything Wolfgang Puck puts in front of me I will sample!

Given your philosophy, Jude, you asked the wrong question, not "What makes a work of literature important?" but "What makes it popular?"

 

Both are interesting questions, but lead to very different answers IMO.

Ditto on Wolfgang. 

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