A follow-up to my Jan. 18 column, “Letting go of literature“:
Why should we read literature?
What struck me first was the ridiculous state of criticism my article received. Many who did identify my satirical tone were not impressed.
Yes, the literary “elite” have their books and stories and maybe even poems for the more adventurous. I genuinely believe that literature is to be regarded as a sacred institution. Literature is sacred because a bond is formed between the reading and the reader. I seriously question the legitimacy of that bond if what I experienced is the criticism of the “elites” of literature.
Reflection and refinement are not pressing values in our society. I’m inclined to believe that my point was proven, but let me say more.
When one sits down to read a short story or a lengthy novel, they begin a relationship meant to permeate their life.
Reading literature requires active participation. Literature is meant to make one reflect and refine. I would be dismayed to find someone reading Dickens for pleasure.
A dear friend of mine once expressed a concern regarding literature in school. He told me that he was asked to read and gain a certain competency of his books and stories. He was distressed because he was not encouraged to use the lessons he learned in his books to change his real life or the world around him. I listened attentively and shared his concern. Therefore, let me put it to my audience: Are you reading? Are you examining text for what texts are intended, a purposeful intent to change?
If I sit down to read Chekhov, I do not simply examine the stories of Chekhov, I make the experiences of Chekhov a part of my reality. I allow him to pervade my existence and revolutionize my thoughts.
When I read, I attempt to gain an understanding of the grander historical narrative presenting itself in its entirety to my being. Not because I am selfish and want to steal from what I have read, but because I know it has much to offer the meaning of my existence.
Literature could be a revolutionary force in our society if we would but grasp the enormity of its cause.
I wonder if there is a sense of gratification, grandeur and judgment that readers steal from their books and stories. I wonder if reading, a humble expression of creating meaning with mankind, has become your personal trophy.
Are the books on your shelf a part of your life given to you in decency by history, or do you command them as your own books which give you illusions of grandeur?
I say this because what I experienced was a depraved criticism, fickle and without meaning. The response was empty.
I question the meaning we give to what we read.
Literature may only be as good as the people who encounter and express it. The current state of readership does not give literature a very good name.
It makes one reminisce of Tolkien’s line, “Where now are the horse and the rider?”
Where now are the books and their readers?
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