Why Do We Read Literature?

As a partial response to a suggestion from searider a few weeks ago, I ask you, a reader gracious (or perhaps unfortunate) enough to glance at this humble blog, why do you read literature? Why do you read good fiction as opposed to cheap or pulp fiction or non-fiction?

Here’s an answer from Proverbs 25:11-13.

A word fitly spoken

is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold

is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest

is a faithful messenger to those who send him;

he refreshes the soul of his masters.

4 thoughts on “Why Do We Read Literature?”

  1. The easiest answer to your “Why read good fiction?” question is:

    “C. S. Lewis answered that question in _An Experiment in Criticism_.”

    That could be enough; but if pressed, one could say, “Because literature is an addition to life, an expansion of being,” etc. “I know that my life is richer because I have read and love _The Brothers Karamazov_, etc.”

    Lewis allowed that stuff published as (basically) pulp fiction could enrich us; see his comments on Rider Haggard.

    One could also fashion a reply using elements of Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories,” with his discussion of subcreation, etc. “‘Twas our right (used or misused),” to make stories; hence, to read them.

    The question should be followed up: “Why do you _reread_ fiction?” The answer’s already indicated, above.

  2. Early in life I joined the literature camp. Later in a master’s seminar I was to shock one professor with the comment, “Science is, after, all the greatest work of imagination yet.” (which is a paraphrase from Lewis Mumford, who spent much time on the question of art).

    Here’s another quote that homeschoolers seem to like. It’s from Ursula Le Guin (From “SF as Way of Seeing,” Fall 1970, published in ‘The Language of the Night,’ed. Wood, 1979.)

    “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or

    imaginary, do and think and feel–or have done and thought and felt;

    or might do and think and feel–is an essential guide to our

    understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.

    A person who had never known another human being could not be

    introspective any more than a terrier can, or a horse; he might

    (improbably) keep himself alive, but he could not know anything about

    himself, no matter how long he lived with himself.

    And a person who had never listened to nor read a tale

    or myth or parable or story, would remain ignorant of his own

    emotional and spiritual heights and depths, would not know quite

    fully what it is to be human.

    For the story–from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace–is one of the

    basic tools invented by the mind of man, for the purpose of gaining

    understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the

    wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

  3. unlike most of the people whoe think reading literature is wasting time I think literature is sweet because it plays with your imagination & your real life and your bird of mind can fly anywhere that is not accessable in the real life.

  4. reading is the best asset you can acquire for your self,it is something you can give to others and yet still remain rich.

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