Thursday, May 31, 2012
For the Love of Good Literature
For as long as I can remember, I've always been interested in reading. I read my first book at seven, and I've never looked back. Over the years, my choice in books has diversified, but my love for reading has never waned. I like to read many different kinds of books, but for the purpose of this discussion, if I had to distill it down to three of them, I would say that I appreciate a good classic, an engrossing fantasy and a well-written biography. All three have their own unique strong points, and all three help to make up a diverse and sparkling repertoire of reading material.
A classic work of literature is a category that is somewhat nebulous, and will vary from reader to reader. As a general rule, a classic work of literature is going to be the kind of literature that helps to characterize, or flesh out, an entire decade or time period. It has artistic qualities, is replete with archetypes, and touches on themes such as life, death, love, faith, and hope that touch any human being who reads it, regardless of background or locale. A poignant example of an enduring classic is the iconic Divine Comedy, written by the poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri. One of my favorite classics is, in fact, the Divine Comedy; another is the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I appreciate both of these classics, and classics in general, because of their complexity and the in-depth analysis that they provide when you attempt to absorb them. Classics are also a fantastic way to really get in touch with the soul of humanity, if you will; the universal cogitations, longings, and attitudes common to all ages.
An enthralling fantasy is a work of literature that captivates the imagination and encourages the human heart to think big and, with regard to some pieces of literature within this genre, connects with a layer of our humanity that is most dear to us. A wonderful example of a work of fantasy that encompasses both in rarefied form is J.R.R. Tolkien's famous trilogy, the Lord of the Rings. I appreciate masterful and classical works of fantasy for much the same reasons as I appreciate standard classics: they touch on some very essential human elements and that place in the soul of humanity where beauty, mystery, and meaning reside. It is from this core that grow the fantasy worlds themselves, such as the over-arching and massive cosmos constructed by Tolkien himself for the context of the Lord of the Rings. I would suggest, perhaps, that the actual world that is developed through events and characters within a work of classic fantasy is actually of less consequence than the place of inspiration that they grow from within the author's mind; for it is at this seed of hope and human idealism that a work of fantasy meets reality and the two mingle in the minds of men. As with classics, literature in the genre of fantasy tends to be engrossing and complex, giving a good opportunity for analysis and deep thought.
Finally, biographies also have much to offer. Biographies are windows into the essential being of individuals, and as such, they span decades and centuries and unite persons all over the globe to one another. They are the memoirs of a soul, and as such, they become part of the memoirs of our own souls, as thoughts, meditations, and experiences become communicated intimately and deeply. Biographies inspire us, they empower us, and they motivate us to be more fully human every day. They awaken us to the good within humanity, that perchance we might fight for that good and believe in it. An example of an excellent biography is Jack's Life: The Life's Story of C.S. Lewis by Douglas H. Gresham. A superb autobiography, on the other hand, is the Story of a Soul by Saint Thérèse de Lisieux. Both are excellent windows into the essential being, the attitudes, thoughts, hopes, fears, and aspirations of the people they convey to the readers. Biographies and autobiographies are not so much designed to be analyzed as they are to be consumed; not so much mulled over as to be meditated on and absorbed. The more we learn about the inner minds and the depths of the heart in various human persons, the more human we become. It is an excellent practice to absorb the wisdom of others and add it to your own.
- An Essay on How I View Literature