By Brynna Baldauf
Literature means so many different things, so let’s start at the base. What is literature, exactly? Merriam-Webster describes it as “writings in prose or verse; especially: writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (2): an example of such writings.”
One explanation of literature, then, may be that it is a synopsis or snapshot of society during the time at which the literature was written – and perhaps elevated or refined so as to be the “the best” society has to offer at that time.
Why is it important to have access to literature of every age?
Experience literature as art
Literature as expressed thusly is art, something that, C.S. Lewis stated, did not simply describe reality, but added to it. Rather than baldly depicting reality at its most basic, literature seeks to elevate current reality to a higher realm. Certainly, a piece of literature explores the social norms and values of the time, but it goes further. It seeks to educate, to provide food for thought, and to spur the reader’s imagination and creative instinct.
Travel to times long past
What was it like to live in society during the time of Dickens, of the Brontës, of Voltaire, of Henry, of Thoreau, et al?
We can get a glimpse of those times long past by reading their works. We get to experience life as the author experienced it – Dickens and his impoverished and difficult childhood, Thoreau and his quest for a “simpler life,” or the Brontë sisters and their experiences as women in a society that saw them largely as helpmeets, mothers and wives, as tenders of children not suitable for work other than as unmarried governesses or teachers, and as the property of husbands or fathers.
Look at the world through someone else’s eyes
In addition to being able to “experience” societies’ past through authors’ writings, reading literature gives us the opportunity to look at the world through completely different eyes, whether past, present, or imagined future. Each of us undoubtedly has our own way of looking at, valuing, and making sense of a world that’s completely unique to us.
Well-written literature that can be understood, analyzed and enjoyed gives us the opportunity to see the world from someone else’s point of view entirely. We may not agree with it or completely understand it, but we can indeed see just how someone else views the world, in a way that gives us fresh insight into our own points of view.
Enjoy simple, elegant entertainment
Few contest the importance of television, radio, video games, the Internet, movies and all other electronic forms of entertainment in their ability to let us relax and enjoy ourselves. Indeed, one might say that they give us effortless ways to enjoy ourselves, since we don’t have to do much but sit back, watch and be entertained.
Even so, the simple and elegant enjoyment that comes with being able to pick up a good book and be transported into another world simply by virtue of our imaginations, our ability to read, and the author’s own prowess with the written word cannot be discounted, nor should it be ignored. Indeed, the ability to read and enjoy good literature is something we may very well lose – to our great detriment and to that of future generations – if we don’t give it the attention it deserves.
Brynna Baldauf has been a lover of books and reading since she was in elementary school and continued this passion through college. She hopes to one day be able to go back to school and earn a human services degree in hopes of helping to council those in need with education and acceptance.