First my disclaimer – I am not the target audience for this book because I am a literary wonk. That said, I don’t really know who this book was intended to attract because readers gonna read and haters gonna… well, you know.
Literature is by definition immediately relevant, because it speaks of the human condition. Ironically, we long for depth in our lives but content ourselves in shallow water. Our entertainment is banal and our conversations increasingly require a smaller and smaller vocabulary. We each have the same twenty-four hours available in every day, but many of them are lived half-heartedly – nothing special.
Apart from the simple, trashy books which constantly drill to our lowest carnal elements, true literature calls to us a host of writerly advisers who push and pull us into moral dilemmas, forcing us to, as Socrates said“know thyself.” Anaïs Nin said “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” Herein lies first the opportunity and ultimately the catalyst of real growth.
In a better book, “Why Literature Matters” Glenn Arbery wrote
“Literature matters because nothing can better approach the form, in this sense, of life in its felt reality, as it is most deeply experienced, with an intelligence that increases in power the more it explores the most unbearable dimensions of joy and suffering. Without being specifically religious itself, it can give an experience of a common glory that intimates something otherwise unsayable about the nature of the Word through whom all things were made. It can turn the loss of life and meaning not only into the rediscovery of meaning but into an occasion of promissory joy.”
In his essay “What is Art?” Leo Tolstoy tells the story of the Russian painter Karl Bryullov correcting a student’s sketch. “Why, you only changed it a tiny bit,” the student marveled, “but it is quite a different thing.” Bryullov replied: “Art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.” Tolstoy comments: “That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the ‘tiny bit’ begins, where the infinitesimally small alterations of consciousness take place.”
Read this little book. It’s easy and you can do it while skimming Facebook. (JK)