It’s the nightmare essay question of every English major: Define literature.
I think for a piece of writing to be considered “literature”, it should defy boundaries in some way. Some examples. Dracula was considered trashy (by some) in its time but is thought of as a classic now – and not just because it is old. While it is about vampires and the supernatural, it is hardly a ghost story alone. It is also about madness, trust, love, friendship, science and bravery. It’s defies its genre and time period to stand outside as a really good story.
I’m not a sci-fi person (normally), but A Wrinkle In Time was a game-changer for me. I don’t care for romances very much, but I can appreciate what Gone With the Wind did as a tentpole novel.
When a book doesn’t even attempt to do anything but distract, it falls short of literature. I find a close comparison in the film industry. When a film seeks only to make flashes and be eye candy, it will never be true cinema. It has a purpose, but not in becoming part of any canon. It’s there as candy — which is fine. On the other hand, when a film seeks to bring something to the table, when it attempts to inspire and wants to be remembered, it will more likely be considered cinema. Even B movies with low budgets can ask tough questions and be appreciated decades later.
So, that is my attempt to define literature. Thoughts?