What is a literary masterpiece? The selections vary depending on what list you are looking at. Encyclopedia.com defines a masterpiece as a work of outstanding artistry, skill or workmanship. The website for Associated Content attributes a literary masterpiece as something that will stand the test of time. With these definitions, one can look at what a literary masterpiece consists of, expectations of these works, experiences with various literary masterpieces and qualities expected in these works of art.
I expect literary masterpieces to be written in the language of their time. Many of these works were not originally written in English, so at times, translation can be choppy and wordy. I often find literary masterpieces to be very verbose and written from a very self-involved point-of-view. Many lists name the Bible as one of the biggest masterpieces of all time. Many authors were involved in the writing of this work, but much of the Bible is written from what could be seen as a self-righteous or presumptuous point-of-view.
Literary masterpieces can be entertaining, pleasant, fun, and beautiful, or they can be dull, boring, excruciating to read. I have had both experiences. Depending on what list is looked at, I may have read a few of the ‘masterpieces’ here and there. One of my favorite books is The Great Gatsby, which is listed on almost every list of masterpieces I could find. I have also read various parts of both Bibles, and much of that is amazing. On the other hand, a book like The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was excruciatingly painful to read. No matter how hard I tried, I could not grow past the first chapter. Maybe it was the enthralling description of the dusty plains which made it so difficult to read. I spoke with my mother about this. She taught English for many years. Her response was, “some of these books are good, and some you just read because you have to.” To me, a masterpiece should also be a good book, but I suppose I cannot decide if someone else will like a novel. In addition, literary masterpieces are defined as works that have stood the test of time, not that they were the best book ever written. Many, many years ago I had to read Iliad by Homer, and that was a tough book to devour. I would imagine it is a combination of the English translation and written so many years ago that made it hard-to-reach.
Literary masterpieces came into my life through many different forms. I was forced to read some books, like Catcher in the Rye. I still have never been able to get into that book, or any other book by Salinger. Then again, another book, The Call of the Wild, was an in-school reading, and I desperately love that book. I also have another book by Jack London I need to read called John Barleycorn. Usually if I have a choice on whether or not I should read a book that will shape my opinion of it to a certain extent. I think the teacher who introduced me to a certain book also would help shape my opinion. I love to read, and teachers who share that love have always been able to introduce me successfully to wonderful literature. I think teachers had more leeway with lesson plans when I was growing up than they do today, and I think this makes a difference. My sister is a teacher, but she hates reading, and I think this is because she was never given a choice of great books to read.