I'm going with hindrance. Studying literature and studying writing are separate things and I think sometimes what we may learn in lit classes can contaminate us as writers. This is based on my own experience as I've encountered a number of lit instructors who were so rigid in interpretation and in what is considered literature that it turned me off some certain books (screw Steinbeck and Dickens). I wouldn't classify any of the books undergrad instructors had required as essential reading for writers. Ethan Frome? Please. This isn't to say that reading isn't important in becoming a writer. No. You need to read everything you can find, that means even holding your nose to read Steinbeck.

Plus, lit classes teach (at least those who pay attention) that there is a hierarchy in literature, with genre writing somewhere around grocery lists and ransom notes. That whole litfic versus genre fiction fight begins here. If you want to get rid of constant discussion, you need to kill it at the source.

And another thing: I truly believe that a lot of people are turned off from reading by lit classes. If I hadn't already been a bookworm and knew that there was so much great stuff outside of the classroom, I don't know if I would be a writer today. But think of the people whose first experience with reading is from these classes. No wonder reading and book buying are on the decline.

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Everything is essential reading, even the shittiest conceived piece of garbage by-the-book romance/horror/sci-fi/coming-of-age story written on a roll of toilet paper.
What used to really piss me off about the literature classes I took is that the teacher would ask us to talk about the book, then tell us we were wrong because the critics said it all meant this. Then we would have to spend hours slogging through lit crit books to write papers about the book or story. Exactly how is that supposed to encourage me to read, think and write?
It's not like all writing is like a puzzle to figure out, and then to have a definite solution. If this is truly a excercise in analytical thinking, then it requires some room for interpretation. Literature shouldn't be tackled like that.
Ransom notes pay better.
"... there is a hierarchy in literature, with genre writing somewhere around grocery lists and ransom notes."

Genre fiction ranks that high? Who knew?
I think you need to clarify what you mean by the best mysteries being "good bad books". It sounds like your opinion of the genre is rather low, which I hope it isn't considering the company you're in. But I think you're totally wrong in saying that mysteries cannot be art. I can name 50 crime novels off the top of my head that would contradict that statement.
Don't tell me you're coming onto a forum like this and then tell us that the mystery genre is a lesser form of, well, not even art, but some sort of craft project to sell to the masses. I can't believe that you would say that Hammett and Chandler wrote "bad books". Hammett was one of the founding fathers of twentieth century literature. Can't name ten mysteries that count as art: what about books by James M. Cain? Daniel Woodrell? Dennis Lehane? George Pelecanos? Turow? James Sallis? Joyce Carol Oates? Kate Atkinson? Edgar Allan Poe? Walter Mosley? Pete Dexter? Charles Willeford? Chester Himes? Elmore Leonard? James Crumley? Megan Abbott? John le Carre? Graham Greene? Patricia Highsmith? None of these people wrote art? If these people aren't artists, then who is?
Great discussion. I go back to the roots of all this, the fact that, for several hundred thousand years all there was, beside sculpture and cave paintings, were stories told around the fire. Entertaining, yes, they had to be. Educational, absolutely, they helped define our role in the tribe and in the universe. Art? There's the rub. We didn't have that word for most of the time we were on the planet. There weren't critics to define it for us or professors to challenge the critics. There was just the power of the story.
Now I admit I want to tell a rousing good tale, and I'd love to join Laura Lippman on the NY Times Bestseller list, and be rich from my writing ( or even to make a living from it, instead of cramming it into my non-paid time!) But at the same time I am stretching the genre I write in, like many of us (Julia Spencer Fleming and Ken Bruen come to mind) . I write from hard boiled to cozy, from thriller to puzzle. I throw in poetry, philosophy. religion, all kinds of interesting tidbits. Not for the sake of art, for which I give not one damn, but for the sake of telling a story that might just change someone's life.
I got turned off the classics in most of my lit classes, except for one in high school. I never took any in college because I passed the AP test to get out of Freshman English. But in general, I had to work really hard to "unlearn" the picking apart of literature and just enjoy the story. I never managed to do it with poetry - in fact I still think I don't "get" poetry so I don't read it, even though I've enjoyed things like Shakespeare's sonnets and a book of Leonard Cohen poetry that my husband has. Even now I am afraid to go back and pick apart stories I love to analyze what makes them work. It's sad, really.
I chose not to major in any form of English because I didn't want to spoil my enjoyment of it. They let me get by with only English Lit 101, but that was more than enough. Now, my impression of the "texts" we read is that some of them contained experience beyond the understanding of the ordinary college student, and others had just plain dated themselves out of contemporary life.

I know I'm going to be asked which ones were dated, but I disposed of both the books and the memories decades ago. I do remember Hemingway and Thomas Mann -- not dated, just meant for people with different experience than mine at the time.

Here's the real crime -- the papers we had to write about all this wonderful but force-fed knowledge stopped my writing urge for 20 years.

Hooray for the internet -- how could a body resist putting some words out there?
"I may not know much about art, but I know what I like."

I think all of you must have been exposed to lousy teachers or taken the class with a lousy attitude. Sure instructors tell students to comment on their reading. Sure students frequently get something wrong. Sure the instructor corrects them. Students get things wrong because they read fast and without attention or much thought. They only want to know what happens, not why. The instructor is usually right because he has the reasons and examples to prove his point. What the student is supposed to take away from this is that every assertion about a book needs to be backed up by logic and proof from the text.

As a writer, I like the fact that I know why I use certain details, a certain character, a certain plot twist in the right place, and yes, even a certain kind of setting and atmosphere. I learned all that in lit. classes.


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