The Lost Art of Reading Great Literature

By Tabitha Harris, Opinion Editor

Who reads anymore? I mean really reads, devours books as if one’s very life depended on it. Ray Bradbury ominously pointed out that “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture…just get people to stop reading them.” Culture’s survival is riding on how many people read books; not on how advanced our technology becomes. A society which ceases to read is a society which ceases to grow.

Some may question the value of made-up stories. After all, how will Harry Potter help students pass their finals? How will Beowulf, Elizabeth Bennett, and Jay Gatsby help lawyers win cases or doctors save lives? How will any of these fictional characters help anyone do the normal everyday tasks which fall to our lot as humans? We will never have to fight dragons or battle wizards or save worlds. True, but some days, just getting out of bed and facing yet another day can be a struggle so great that we almost wish we had to walk into a dragon’s lair instead.

Reading about events played out on a much grander scale than most of us will ever have to experience often proves helpful as we face our own struggles. Personally, the character Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings—a stellar work of literature which I highly recommend—reminds me that giving up is never an option. Better to burn with a smouldering passion for the things you believe in than to quit out of cowardice and fear.

I believe that great stories of honour and courage and loyalty are giving way to lesser stories of introspection and narcissistic self-probing. There is a place for reflection and analysis, yes, but not at the expense of higher virtues. What good is it if you’ve found yourself but forgotten what it means to be valiant and honourable? I realize words like “valiant” and “honour” and even “chivalry” are not words we use in everyday speech and I find that sad. Perhaps it’s because we seldom read stories which show us the true meaning of such words or perhaps we’ve become jaded into cynicism by the world around us.

By “great stories”, I don’t mean knights and swords and dragons, I mean stories which capture normal 21st century life but in a way that leaves you breathless. Stories where people rally around one another for support and strength as they fight for their dreams. Stories where the hero doesn’t get the girl but that’s all right because he learned what it means to be courageous and brave.

The other day in Dunkin on campus, I saw a young woman reading her Kindle in line and it made me smile. By reading instead of complaining through Snapchat about how long the line was, she was doing her part to ensure that this lost art never fades away.

So while reading Harry Potter may not help you get that job, it may just show you how to persevere even when the odds seem to be most against you. For your own sake, I encourage you to read. Read novels, read autobiographies, read the news. Keep that hunger for knowledge and beauty alive.

                                      

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 4th print edition.

Contact Tabitha at

tabitha.harris@student.shu.edu

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