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Broadly, any collection of written work could be considered literature, although the term is also used more narrowly to describe art created with words.

Usually, the term is used to refer to works of fiction or novels, plays, poems, and short stories, as these types of works are generally viewed as more artistic, and have more value than non-fiction, informational texts, or other types of writing.

However, arguments about what is or is not literature have taken place throughout history.

For example, several popular book series for children, published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate between the late 1800s to the late 1900s, including the Rover Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Motor Boys, Tom Swift, Dave Dashaway, Ruth Fielding, Dave Fearless, Radio Boys, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Happy Hollisters, Tom Swift, and several others, were long excluded from school libraries, and many public libraries, on the basis that they were inferior to true literature, although they were wildly popular among their target audiences. Acquired by Simon & Schuster, some of these titles continue to be updated and published today.

In 1948, the novelist Jean-Paul Sartre published an essay, originally in French, then translated into English under the title, "What is Literature?" In his essay, Sartre makes a distinction between prose and poetry, placing the latter among other forms of art, such as paintings, sculptures, and musical compositions.

This argument has not been widely accepted, as poetry is generally considered to be literature.

Aristotle was one of the first writers to attempt to define what was or was not literature, Although known for his contributions to science and philosophy, he was one of the first literary critics.

In the wider sense of art being in the eye of the beholder, literature can refer to any collection of written work, but with the understanding that a narrower definition defines literature as an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry. In recent years, the definition has expanded to include transcribed oral literature. As an art form, literature might also include the non-fiction genres of biography, diaries, memoirs, letters, and essays.

Some definitions seek to separate literary fiction from genre fiction, such as mystery, science fiction, western, romance, thriller, and horror, particularly those published in the mass-market paperback format. Those who adopt this view argue that genre fiction doesn't have as much character development as literary fiction and that it is read for entertainment, escapism, and plot, while literary fiction is created on a higher level, using symbolism and other literary devices to make the characters come alive to the reader.

Definitions have varied over time, and there will probably always be arguments over whether a specific work qualifies as literature or not. What we consider to be literature will vary from generation to generation. Herman Melville's 1851 novel "Moby Dick" was considered inferior by contemporary reviewers, but has since been recognized as a masterpiece.

The history of literature spans thousands of years. Written works created before the Middle Ages are considered Ancient Literature, and include such works as "The Iliad," "The Odyssey," and the "Bible."

Medieval Literature refers to written works produced during the Middle Ages, or from the 5th to the 15th century. These include "Beowulf," "The Divine Comedy," and "Canterbury Tales."

Literature produced during the Renaissance period, between the 14th and 17th centuries, is known as Renaissance Literature and includes the works of William Shakespeare.

The Enlightenment period lasted from the late 17th to the early 19th century. Literature produced during this time is known as Enlightenment Literature. A significant work of Enlightenment literature was "The Encyclopedia," the first attempt at compiling all of the knowledge of the time into a single reference work. Authors publishing during this period included Voltaire, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, and William Wordsworth.

The Romantic period lasted from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, and Romantic Literature include "Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and the works of such poets as John Keates, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron.

Literary works produced during the 20th and 21st centuries is currently known as Modern and Contemporary Literature, and has thus far included the works of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Thomas Pynchon.

However defined, literature is important because it speaks to us, and because it affects us on a personal level.


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