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Here is something I know: I feel better when I read — not just good, but better. Anxieties are assuaged, burdens lightened, relationships enriched. I feel part of something hopeful, a connection to the writer, the characters, other readers. I feel smart, if it is okay to say that. I am moved to act after reading — to write, to talk. I have new questions and fresh answers. And I am hardly alone. Anne Lamott knows that “when writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with the absurdity of life instead of being squashed by it over and over again.” After sharing stories, writer Barry Lopez feels exhilarated: “The mundane tasks which awaited me, I anticipated now with pleasure. The stories had renewed in me a sense of the purpose of my life.”
Here is something else I know: the power of literature to “renew a sense of purpose in our lives” gets killed in literature classrooms — unintentionally, no doubt, but killed nonetheless.
This isn’t an indictment. Writer Richard Ford found himself teaching literature as a graduate assistant in 1969 and realized, “What seemed worthwhile to teach was what I felt about literature . . . [literature] had mystery, denseness, authority, connectedness, closure, resolution, perception, variety, magnitude — value in other words . . . Literature appealed to me. But I had no idea how to teach its appealing qualities, how to find and impart the origins of what I felt.” This is a difficult question.
Thanks Esther for indirectly bringing this to my attention
Now that we have unlimited information at our disposal, or rather at our heels, it’s a wonder anyone ever actually does anything to make use of it. I feel unlucky in a sense not to exist in a world of slow streaming information, that I might be lost in one task, one interest, one pursuit, for hours. Like this man.
Image via shorpy.