When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
I don't know that I have a hard and fast rule about what I think literature is. "Standing the test of time" is part of it. I don't know if we are good judges of what is going to be thought good 150 years from now. I'd like to say, fliply, that the books reviewed in People magazine are not literature, but they just reviewed Jhumpa Lahiri's new book of short stories (and gave it a full starred rating) and she might be writing literature. It's too easy to be snobbish here. And while I consider Dickens "real literature", remember that he was hugely popular in his day--published serially, with each episode breathlessly awaited.
So, we can't go by that. And I hope there are authors that didn't get their due here (hello, Jon Hassler) that will be given their due in years to come.
And I think that even writers that don't, to my mind, write "literature", can have certain books that I think deserve to last. Smock's love, "little Stevie King", has a few books that I think will certainly be genre classics, though he's written a lot of yuck stuff, too.
Anyway, enough blathering about that. I guess the short answer is that I don't know exactly what literature is, other than "what is taught in decent schools" maybe.
Do I read it? Certainly. It didn't stand the test of time for nothing. And I adore my Dickens, unlikely coincidences and all.