Reading Literature

notes by J. Esch
11 Jan. 2008

citation info (MLA format):
Esch, J. "Reading Literature". Turk's Head Review. 11 Jan. 2008. http://www.turksheadreview.com/library/texts/notes-readinglit.html

What is literature, anyway? defining terms

What makes literature a distinct kind of writing? What does it communicate, and how? The Oxford English dictionary tells us that literature is

"writing which has claim to consideration on the ground of beauty of form or emotional effect." I'd like to spring off this definition, starting with the emotional effect and moving on to beauty of form.

Emotional Effects

Literature is a kind of writing that appeals to your emotions (more than other types of writing). Literature is a mode of writing that goes beyond the scope of simple day-to-day discourse, which typically involves the communication of information for some purpose. Can literature convey useful information? Certainly, but that's not what makes it distinctive. Among its many effects, literature primarily communicates feeling, the feeling of what is like to live, to suffer, to endure, to win and lose, to love and hate, to be born and die.

You don't just read literature, you experience it along with the characters and speakers in the text. Literature is sensitive to these emotional experiences, and it conveys emotional states in ways that other texts downplay, trivialize or ignore. When you read a scientific paper, for instance, you're not likely to gather anything from that text about the author's "feelings" towards the subject matter or what it feels like to be a scientist. It's not relevant to the purpose at hand and would constitute bad science to boot. Literature, conversely, invites you to participate in the experience it is depicting on the page. That's a fundamental, perhaps a categorical, difference between these ways of seeing.

Sometimes (more often than we'd like to admit) we have a need to read texts that move us emotionally. We read in order to feel, to feel something that makes us laugh or cry, something that makes us happy, nostalgic, bittersweet, suspenseful, excited, liberated, rapturous. This kind of reading puts us in touch with our emotions. It gives us permission to identify and empathize with characters, to release our isolated self and relate it to other selves.

There will be times when we pick apart literature in ways that might remind you of the bookish astronomer, and I would advise you to remember that despite all the analysis and fancy interpretations we come up with, that literature is fundamentally about experience. It is culture's verbal pathway to the wonders of imagination and life. Never forget that. Reading novels, stories, poems, and plays should provide you with the imaginative pleasures and challenges of thinking and feeling.

Why and how to read? Seeking emotional wellsprings in literature Reading a poem, as any survivor of high school English can tell you, can be like trying to crack a very difficult nut. Literary texts are often maddeningly strange and difficult to decipher; they aren't familiar, they disorient us, they seem not worth the effort, or they are disconcerting and uncomfortable. People frequently grow bitter when recalling their negative encounters with literary texts. Yet the American poet William Carlos Williams said that people die everyday for want of what's to be found in "despised poems." Williams is acknowledging this bias, yet he maintains that literature is actually worth the effort. Why?

The novelist Vladimir Nabokov developed a short quiz about what it takes to be a good reader of literature. Of the ten definitions, choose four that add up to what you consider necessary qualities for a "good reader." The reader should:

  • belong to a book club
  • be able to identify oneself with the hero or heroine
  • concentrate on the social-economic or historical angle
  • read stories plenty of action and dialogue compared to those with none
  • have seen the movie version of the book
  • be an aspiring author
  • have a good imagination
  • have a good memory
  • have a dictionary nearby
  • have some artistic sensibility

Nabakov predicted that most students would choose #2 and #3 as essential, but he maintained that only the last 4 (7,8,9,10) are truly necessary.

Why don't you need to identify with the hero to be a good reader? And doesn't this contradict a famous quotation from the French author Marcel Proust?

In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have experienced in himself. And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity.

The answer lies in the notion that reading literature is not like staring into a mirror but more like looking through a lens. It doesn't necessarily reflect directly who we are; it is an instrument for exploring who we are in relation to others. It is that imaginative, reflective activity (the work of literary interpretation) that is key to appreciating literature's power. This requires a willingness to engage with a text on its own terms, not our own preconceived expectations for how the story is supposed to be told.

So why don't you need to concentrate on society and historical context to read well? Socio-historical context is certainly helpful, and we should use it, but it is not absolutely necessary to appreciating literature. You can get a lot out of a text simply by reading it closely, re-reading it, studying its structure, and thinking carefully about it. Once you've tackled a text in this way, you very well might want to know more about it, and historical, biographical, and social angles will undoubtedly enhance your experience of the text.

Myths about reading.

Many bad habits are learned in high school and college when it comes to appreciating literature.

Myth 1: You will always be able to see yourself in the text. You may be unwilling to read diverse texts because they don't seem applicable to your life situation; however, if one reads with imagination, one is more likely to relate the experience on the page to one's own life situation. This is not always easy: it takes not just imagination but intellectual curiosity.

Myth 2: You should read literature exclusively as a means of understanding the historical and social context it was written in. The problem here is not that one can't read in that way; it's that this isn't why most people read literature in the first place. They read for entertainment, and they read to discover something about themselves. Social and historical context is important, but it's not as essential to the enjoyment of literature. Another unfortunate outcome of this myth is that it tends to lead the reader away from the experience of the text, what happens on the page and why, which relates back to Nabokov's advice that you need to have some artistic sense to appreciate literature. Understanding how and why a story is constructed as it is will enhance your appreciation of the work.

Myth 3: There's only one correct interpretation of a literary text. Reading is not a parlor game of decoding the secret messages in the text or looking up the answer in a guidebook. We need to understand the nature of reading and the inherent ambiguity of all art. Good works of literature are able to sustain multiple readings or interpretations. They work on several levels simultaneously, and different readers see these levels at different times. So the right answer would be that there are many plausible interpretations, and part of the fun of reading involves exploring the many meanings a work can have.

Myth 4: There are no incorrect interpretations of a literary text. Anything goes. Everyone's opinion is equally valid. This is also an error, I think. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it doesn't mean that every opinion is equally valuable. What makes an interpretation plausible and persuasive is your ability to articulate it in writing and in discussions and to support your views with textual evidence.

Becoming a better reader

So what does it take to become a good reader of literature? For Nabokov, it takes imagination, memory, a dictionary, and artistic sensibility.

The imagination. Imagination is a world you always see associated with literature, both its production and reception, so it's worthwhile to establish precisely what we mean by it. It takes imagination to write literature, and I would assert, it takes imagination to read it. In essence, all art is always about "making stuff up". It takes imagination to depict the world in language: a world as it is, as it has been, as it could or could never be.

It's interesting to note how the etymology of words for literature's conventional genres are synonyms or derivatives of words for "forming" or "making stuff up". Fiction: derives from the Latin word fictus, the past participle of fingere, meaning "to fashion, form, imitate, invent" Poetry - derived from the Greek word poetes, which meant "maker, creator, producer, composer" and its cognate poiein "to create". Drama: means a play, a mimic action performed for amusement. derives from ancient Greek word meaning "deed, act, to perform, to do".

Creative Reading. In any literary exchange between author and reader, it is not only the author who needs to be creating. You too as the reader must employ your imagination. Ralph Waldo Emerson says "one must be an inventor to read well." The kind of reading we're practicing in this class is something a bit more difficult than the kind of reading you may be accustomed to, like the books you read at the beach. This is something more focused, concentrated, attentive, meditative, and challenging. To get the most out of literature, you need to invest time, attention and imaginative energy. You must be a creative reader. That is the only way to discover a text's value, its truth. Becoming a perceptive, responsive reader means committing yourself to the imaginative journey. This journey is not for everybody. You're going to be on your own. It's not going to be easy. Nobody can cultivate this field but you. It will set you apart from the crowd. You'll doubt yourself. You'll forego the comforts of certainty. You might not like what you find on these journeys. And yet, the payoff is that you can make great strikes in developing yourself into a fuller human being. Your humanity lays undeveloped within you.

I encourage you to entertain the thought that reading literature provides something more than simple entertainment and distraction. The open road is there for the taking. It offers you the chance to reconsider who you really are, what you're all about, why you're here. By reading stories, poems, and plays drama, you pass on through to a great human drama, full of pain and rapture, joy and beauty. Will reading literature really make a difference? That's largely up to you.

The Dictionary. The dictionary is vital because you simply won't "get into" these texts unless you know the meanings of the words in them. Literature is language at its finest and often at its most demanding. You need to have a certain love for words and their multiple meanings if you're going to relate fully to the text.

Memory. And what role does memory play? Literature is for long attention spans. You need to be patiently diligent and let the meanings slowly emerge. Then you begin to glimpse what the author was after. Memory will help you stitch together the big picture painted by the text. It will also help you to relate this text to other texts by the same author or different ones. It will help you connect with your own memories of experience that confirm or belie the ones you are reading about.

Artistic Sensibility. Seeing as an artist sees is a great way to understand and appreciate what you are reading. This doesn't mean that you have to be an artist or a writer yourself. It just means that you should be sensitive to the artistic impulse. Art is about inspiration and giving a formal structure to that inspiration so it can be communicated to others in a given medium: language, sculpture, paint, music. We will revisit artistic sensibility later when discussing the second part of our definition of literature, beauty of form.

Reading & self discovery

There are a couple of ways you can look at the reading process. One is in terms of opening out and escape, the other as diving deep and gaining entry to the interior. Both are forms of liberation and self discovery. When you read, you temporarily submit our attention span to the author, but in doing so, you grant yourself the freedom to imagine. This is a form of play.

Literature and play. Many view reading and studying literature as a tedious waste of time. Reading is considered one of the most boring, useless things you can do, something done out of idleness, laziness, or something only the rich can afford to indulge themselves in because they have plenty of leisure time. Oscar Wilde says ironically in his preface to Dorian Gray, "all art is quite useless." Wilde, who lived in the Victorian Age, a time dominated by moralism, utility, and industry, is responding to a Philistine attitude toward art. Art appreciation doesn't have any discernible practical value. It's not going to make you rich and famous. It's not going to save your soul. It's not going to feed the hungry, protect you from terrorism, or save the whales.

And yet, here's why Wilde's quote is ironic: literature's very uselessness may be one of its greatest strengths because it takes you out of the day-to-day realm into the realm of the imaginary and the emotional, as opposed to the world of work. Play is a form of disinterested pleasure, an activity whose end is itself. Play is its own fulfillment. It provides psychological relief, and beyond that play is not connected with your needs, sustenance, survival. Play has no utility, in the sense we're accustomed to. As spiritual creatures we need this sort of disinterested contemplation and activity. It's a good thing. Reading literature gives you the opportunity to exercise your imagination. It lets your mind roam, play, expand, and pretend.

If you think play has a value for your life, then maybe literature has a kind of backdoor utility after all. Admittedly, it is an oblique sort of practical benefit. The literary critic Kenneth Burke said we can use literature as "equipment for living," which means that we can look to art and literature for models of human conduct, behaviors and moral situations we can identify with and learn from. Literature offers a world where you can imaginatively "play out" these ideas on the stage of your imagination, and take away lessons or kernels of wisdom from the encounter. This in no way implies that literature always contains a "moral" to be discovered and taught. Some literature certainly does just that; most, however, doesn't do that at all. The effects are more subtle. What I do think Burke was getting at is the observation that we can approach literature and read it in a manner that it can be applied to our lives - it can help give our lives meaning, help us chart our way through life's decisions and gateways, and it can remind us that in the game of life, we are not in this alone.

The Roman poet Horace declared that poetry's purpose was to delight and instruct (dulce et utilite), or in the words of the poet Matthew Arnold, sweetness and light. Delight relates to the notion of play I've been discussing, and instruction relates to Burke's "equipment for living."

Literature, escape and discovery. Reading literature helps to connect the individual self with his/her society, and one way to do this is to read as a means of getting outside of yourself for a while. We read to escape the "real world." To break the daily routine. To help the time pass by. To play in some other part of our consciousness. To exercise our emotional imagination. To discover strange, adventuresome new worlds.

Literature offers a passport to other worlds, civilizations, time periods, regions, cultures, selves. When we travel to these places, we relate our own life experience to the ones we encounter in the text. Literature gives you the opportunity to role play, to re-imagine yourself in different contexts, and through this experimental interplay, you learn more about your self, who you are, where you come from, what your values and beliefs are. We also learn to see as others see, think as others think, which has the humane benefit of opening your capacity for empathy, compassion, understanding, and acceptance of the richness and diversity of the human experience.

When writers create literature, they do it for much the same reasons. For the writer Amy Tan, writing and reading is an "act of faith." Faith in what? In discovering something new and interesting about life and the self. The text is the means for connecting author with reader:

To me, that's the mystery and the wonder of both life and fiction -- the connection between two individuals who discover in the end that they are more the same than they are different.

I guarantee that reading literature with imagination and attentiveness will help you to understand human desires, motivations, and possibilities, and limitations. And in that understanding you will see yourself in relation to it. You will become a better judge of human character in the process.

In his essay "The American Scholar," Ralph Waldo Emerson had this to say about the experience of reading: "the best books....impress us with the conviction that one nature wrote and the same reads." In other words, the book connects author and reader in a common bond, i.e. Human nature, our common humanity. This may be art's function - to express the full range of human experience, from the interiority of self consciousness to the connectedness of social fabric to the order and disorder of the cosmic forces.

Exploring the inner depths. We can also read as a way to enter into a "deeper world", an interior space in our consciousness, something half submerged beneath layers of habit and superficial thinking, where emotions and imagination have their source. In short, we read to get in better touch with ourselves, with the core of our being. Who am I? Who are we? What are we here for? What's the point? Reading literature can help you explore those questions.

The 20th century Czech writer Franz Kafka wrote "a book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us." The book as ice pick. You can use it as a tool to free your emotions, let loose and purge yourself of powerful feelings.

Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies, claims that serious reading is a kind of deep sea diving that makes available to you a portable tool for accessing your inner depths: "We hold in our hands a way to cut against the momentum of the times. We can resist the skimming tendency and delve; we can restore, if only for a time, the vanishing assumption of coherence." Reading puts you in touch with something that lasts longer and means more than last week's episode of The Real World or what you got for Christmas.

Reading itself is one of the more solitary experiences you're likely to participate in, especially in our cluttered, oversaturated world of electronic media and technology - life in the fast lane. You must make time for reading, and it takes time and privacy to do it right. There are so many demands on our time these days; who has the time for literature? Why might you want to make the time for it? The act of reading is almost radical these days, because it is antithetical to the harried pace and purpose-driven habits of modern life. Reading is something you do by yourself and in silence. How many other activities besides sleep can you characterize that way? The transaction between book and reader's eye is quiet, meditative. The text doesn't make a noise. If you open yourself up to the experience of literature, you will discover that this most solitary experiences can open up a vast world between the covers to be explored and discovered.

Ironically, this experience, which appears to be so quiet, lonely and isolated, can turn out to be a pipeline connecting you to other people (readers, writers, characters, past lives, people in other situations) and other worlds (spaning space and time). This, I think, is ultimately what is implied by literature's "emotional effect." We read literature to tap into emotional wellsprings in ourselves, and to open ourselves so that we can connect better with other people's life experiences.

If you think of the self as a set of concentric circles consisting of collective soul, individual soul, mind, feeling, and body. It is the emotions that fall closest to the truth of our bodies, the domain of breath, heart, pleasure and pain. Reading literature shoots from the outer layers to the inner and connects you to that emotional center. It both broadens the mind and plumbs the depths of the heart.

Reading as therapy. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said "[w]e have art in order not to die of the truth." Why? Because art can help you deal with life, help you endure life's burdens. Sometimes reality hurts too much; it is too much to bear. Art can provide an escape valve or provide a means of coping with the problem by appealing to a higher truth than the one that's bogging you down.

Through art, you may find true meaning in the seemingly meaningless, or the converse: art might expose the seemingly meaningful as totally meaningless or wrongheaded. And there is a certain comfort in being able to break into such an awareness. Literature can actually transform your consciousness, make you see life in a brand new way.

This raises a distinction between art created solely for entertainment and art that goes above and beyond. Lightweight art rarely challenges your point of view. It makes you laugh and cry, but it doesn't go very deep. Heavy duty art will entertain but it will also confront you with difficult questions and open-ended answers.

Guidelines for reading literature

  • Read slowly. Dwell, cogitate, feel, let your imagination take over. Don't read for easy answers or main ideas. This is not a textbook. This book is a magic carpet. See what you can see.
  • Read two times. First, to satisfy your curiosity: you figure out how the story unfolds, how the poem develops its themes, and where it all leads. You could call this a linear reading of the text, or a literal one. Second, do a "close reading," which means being very observant to how the writer uses the elements of literature to bring design, pattern, style and structure to the work.
  • Reflect and respond to what you read. Literature isn't just reading words on the page; it's about life. The experience, the taste, the comedy and tragedy of living on this planet earth. After you've read slow and read twice, it's time to think about what you've read and start making some connections. How does this relate to my life, my self, my world, my culture, my society?

Reading and literary ambiguity

Literature is something that can be read on a very personal, contemplative level. It can also be read from many other academic perspectives: aesthetic/formal, biographical, socio-historical, feminist, Marxist, psycholgical, etc. This variety of interpretive options introduces another idea worth keeping in mind as you read: literary ambiguity. Ambiguity accounts for the multiple meanings a text may exhibit.

In everyday language, ambiguity has negative connotations as something that is "vague, imprecise, unclear". Yet in terms of literature, ambiguity should be thought of as a good thing. When something is ambiguous, it allows for two or more simultaneous interpretations of a word, phrase, action, or situation. One of the amazing strengths of art is its ability to support and sustain multiple interpretations (meanings) and understandings. Many texts can operate on several levels of understanding, all at the same time. These multiple interpretations do not cancel one another out. They coexist. There is no one moral or theme or message or secret to be decoded. This is not a scavenger hunt. There is only a text with a multiplicity of meanings, pregnant with possibilities.

Take, for example, two typical readers of a literary text. They will likely experience a text in very different ways. As readers, they bring different ideas, backgrounds, memories to the table, and can be expected to react uniquely to the text. In that sense, there is no "wrong" and "right" way to interpret literature. However, once you get out of the immediate reader's response to a text (how you individually feel and think); we realize that not all interpretations are created equal. Some interpretations or "readings" are stronger, others are weaker.

When you write about literature, you're joining in a great conversation about these works. You are trying to produce strong readings, that is interpretations that are convincing to others besides yourself. You will do this by analyzing the works in question and synthesizing the elements you find with valid and interesting ideas of your own. You will attempt to explore the various meanings housed inside the text, bring them to light, and try to explain their relevance, importance, and connections to larger ideas.

When you read "ambiguously," you are in effect expanding your own interpretive range, your ability to make and find meaning all around you. Each new perspective you add to your understanding of a text contributes to a richer picture and a deeper experience. It will get you closer to that emotional center too.

Literature and the beauty of formal design: appreciating artistic structure Remember our definition of literature as writing that is worth considering because of its emotional effect and beauty of form? It's time to figure out what could possibly be meant by the phrase "beauty of form."

The branch of philosophy concerned with the study of beauty is called aesthetics. When you see beautiful face, a beautiful painting or sculpture, listen to a beautiful piece of music, or read a good book, how do you know it's beautiful? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is it not? Does this imply that beauty is relative to the person seeing, one man's shack another man's castle? Is there anything that beautiful objects have in common? Despite the differences amongst what individuals consider beautiful, there may well be consistencies in what the human mind sees as beautiful. For instance, once you strip away the surface details of any beautiful object, and you look at the effect the beautiful object has on the subject (the seer), you're likely to agree that the subject takes pleasure from perceiving the object. The beholder sees or hears something pleasing. It is difficult to conceive how a beautiful thing wouldn't provide a pleasurable experience of one kind or another. Pleasurable objects provide entertainment, diversion, a sense of well being. This is, of course, a big reason why we read - to be entertained, and harks back to Horace's dictum: dulce et utilite. It's why we take vacations to the Grand Canyon or Hawaii. It's why we listen to music and decorate our homes with art.

The OED definition tells us that literature offers a particular kind of beauty, namely "beauty of form". What might they be talking about here? Form refers to the way something is structured, how it is put together, the relationship among its constituent parts. In literature, for example, form is what you're thinking about when you analyze how narrative elements such as plot, setting, point of view, characterization and style contribute to the themes, the emotional and intellectual content of the work. Content is what the text says. Form is the manner in which the content is expressed to the reader, the structure of presentation.

What makes a literary object worth consideration is the beauty of its form, not the content. Think about Literature's subject matter. The content is often about horrible, painful, depressing things happening to people - death, grief, crime, infidelity, violence, cruelty, anxiety, depression. A man discovers he has killed his father and married his mother. Another man wakes up one morning to find that he has metamorphosed into a giant dung beetle. A poet bemoans the loss of a lover. A singer sings the blues. Literature is about life, and life isn't always happy, pretty, or fair. Literary content is changeable, like the weather.

And yet, as a reader, you can derive a certain kind of refined pleasure by considering the means by which the content has been arranged and expressed on the page. That's what we mean by beauty of form. The content may rip you up emotionally, but looking back, your mind enjoys the formal design, the tone, the sound of the work. The Medieval philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas knew that beauty had something to do with pleasure, particularly the pleasure of perception: "those things are called beautiful which please us when they are seen."

But what really pleases us, or satisfies our thirst for beauty doesn't reside in the sense faculties; it resides in your mind. Your senses provide pathways for your mind to contemplate what you're looking at. And what your mind spends its time thinking about is the object's form. For Aquinas, the perception of beauty is ultimately cognitive. It goes beyond the sensual. Beauty is the cognitive pleasure derived from objects mediated through the senses. Aquinas identified three characteristics of beauty that may be useful for thinking about form. They are

  • Integrity (Integritas)
  • Proportion (Consonantia)
  • Clarity (Claritas)

Integritas means integrity - a wholeness or perfection of an object. It is when a thing is completely realized. The whole contains its parts, and all parts contribute to the essence of the whole. Nothing's been left out. Nothing's been added. It feels whole, complete. The thing conforms to the concept. Form is the fulfillment of content.

Proportion. The concept of proportion stretches far back into antiquity and can be expressed as how the parts relate to the whole. Parts in proportion will exhibit consonance (in the harmonic sense). When you sense that all the pieces fit, that they follow an inner logic, you are appreciating the beauty of proportion. (In literature, the aesthetic concept of proportion has been applied to poetic meter, rules for literary ornamentation (description), connotative codes, sound patterns, ordering of narrative action, and narrative symmetry. )

Claritas. Strictly speaking, claritas refers to something brightly colored. When we use the term, we should think of clarity. Something has clarity because it is clear, it shines through brightly. Claritas has to do with light -- light and color, but also the light of reason, the light that flickers on you perceive the truth of something. The Medieval philosopher Albertus Magnus in his De Pulchro et Bono said "the nature of the beautiful consists in general in a resplendence of form, whether in the duly ordered parts of material objects, or in men, or in actions." That resplendence he's talking about is also known as claritas. For Aquinas, claritas is form brought to life (the participation of form in being). When you view, listen, or read, the form expresses itself to you, (or in you). This active sense of illumination, the shining forth or shining through, is called claritas. Claritas reminds us that we as readers of objects must participate in making the form actually come alive. When we do our job, we let the claritas shine through. The art object makes it connection when we plug in our imagination.

Reading literature as formal art

Literature is very much an art; like painting or music, its texts are made, formed, constructed for an audience in such a way that the interplay between form and content strikes us as beautiful, meaningful, inspiring, emotional, or all of the above. To create literary art, the only tool a writer has at his or her disposal is language, words. That's all. Language is the medium of literary art. The writer takes language and twists it to his/her purposes, to tell stories, create moods, express feelings, describe action, paint scenes, and bring characters to life. Writers can create effects with language. They create rhythmic and pleasant patterns. They spend time getting their writing to "sound right," to find a form suitable to what they want to say, which means we as readers must pay extra special attention and dwell on the words on the page (there is nothing else to look at!). This is known in criticism as close reading, and it is a skill anybody can develop; it will awaken you to the power of language and help you to think more carefully about what you read. To do close reading well, you must read attentively with concentration and an open, imaginative mind, willing to receive and understand what the writer may be striving to tell us, and willing to use your imagination to recompose the text and relate its meaning to your own experience. When you study literature closely, critically, you learn how writers use language and literary technique, the choices they make when creating their art, and how technique relates to the expression of themes, the expansion of meaning. By reading closely and analyzing what you read, you understand how art works and what makes it work.

Reconnecting Form and Content

By reassembling our original definition of literature as writing with claim to consideration on the ground of beauty of form and emotional effect, we now see how literature (and any of the arts) fuses the mind and the body. The text's formal beauty (its structure) appeals to your senses and your mind, and the text's content speaks directly to your emotional self (which is closely tied to the body). Once you develop an eye and ear for this meaningful interplay, no one will ever need to persuade you why it's a good thing to read books.

Suggestions for further reading

The following texts can be used to discuss related themes:

  • "There is No Frigate Like a Book" by Emily Dickinson
  • "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" by Walt Whitman
  • "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats
  • "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop
  • "Facing It" by Yusef Komunyakaa
  • "The Albatross" by Charles Baudelaire
  • "Archaic Torso of Apollo" by Rilke
  • "Poetry" by Marianne Moore
  • "Literature as Equipment for Living" by Kenneth Burke
  • The Art of Poetry by Horace
  • Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold
  • The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts
  • Why Read? by Mark Edmundson