Why We “Literature”

Wait! I know I said literature, but please don’t run away. Most people see stars in the day when they hear the word literature. Why are people so terrified of the idea of reading, especially reading literature?

Calm down, guys. Reading, or literature, is really not that overwhelming, unless of course it’s a really great piece of writing that makes your body react involuntarily and you start crying or throwing things or screaming in joy. Okay, so maybe it’s a bit overwhelming.

But seriously, reading is a human experience and what’s really overwhelming is that so many have started to shy away from that experience. As Alberto Manguel says in A Reader on Reading, “the art of reading, in it’s broadest sense, defines our species” (ix). I would say that sounds kind of important, no?

So, to make this less intimidating for those of us that don’t like to read, below is a video in which John Greene, author of The Fault in Our Stars, talks about why and how we read.

Greene covers the importance of the experience of reading and how it functions to create understanding and empathy for others. He also refers to the act of reading as conversation, similar to what Joanna Wolfe and Laura Wilder discuss in Digging into Literature as discourse. When we read, we are engaged in conversation, one that we have with the author as we read, and one we have with each other as consumers of the text.

The key point is that we have power in that conversation.  Greene, and Wolfe and Wilder both refer to this idea of our part as readers in this experience of reading, as “literary critics” (Wolfe and Wilder 9). Therefore, to be intimidated by the idea of reading is to shy away from the opportunity to be a part of that conversation and to give up the power to contribute to it.

And that, all in all, is a pretty bumming thought. Come on, let’s be real. We all like power, right? So why not use it when we are given it is willingly in this format. Why not give reading a chance? Just something to think about.

~ Samiyah T. ~


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