Monday, January 31, 2011

The Power of Literature

This is actually a speech I should be presenting in rhetoric class tomorrow, if this so-called 'massive winter storm' holds off. So, here it goes... (and remember your British accents!!)

Storytelling has been a major part of culture since the beginning of humanity. Mankind was created to thrive on stories. As the world progressed, storytelling gradually shifted from oral to written. From Homer in the 9th century BC to Shakespeare in the late 1500s, the written word has flourished.

Today, mankind thrives on progress. Today, mankind takes pleasure in knowledge. How are we supposed to gain knowledge if we no longer value the written word?

Reading opens up the chance to take in knowledge. Books hold the potential to broaden our minds and learn about life.

One of my favorite quotes by author Janette Oke says “When you read you can have every adventure. In the pages of a book you can be anyone you ever dreamed of being… They can never tell you you’re too young to slay the dragon -- because it all happens right here, where it’s safe.”

When you open a book, the pages hold the possibility of escaping into an entirely different world. Reading allows you to momentarily escape the realities of life. Another one of my favorite quotes, by author Cornelia Funke, says "The world was a terrible place, cruel, pitiless, dark as a bad dream. Not a good place to live. Only in books could you find pity, comfort, happiness - and love. Books loved anyone who opened them, they gave you security and friendship and didn't ask anything in return; they never went away, never, not even when you treated them badly."

Reading, in general, makes you smart. It improves analytical thinking, increases vocabulary, and improves memory and writing skills. If reading provides us with all of these things, then why are 44 million adults in the U.S. unable to read even a simple story to a child?

Fifty-six percent of young people say they read more than ten books a year, with middle school students reading the most. Ten books a year? Personally, I could read ten books a month!

Now, I know most of you cringe at reading any book over two hundred pages. I cannot personally say that I have ever felt that way, but trust me, I know plenty of people who have. I have a challenge for you- go to the library or book store and pick one piece of classical literature off the shelf to read in your spare time. I’m talking about Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Henry James, the Bronte sisters, C. S. Lewis or Jane Austen. Each and every one of those authors has left their mark in history through their works of literature. Now, wouldn’t you want to be able to brag about understanding the quality language of Jane Eyre, Macbeth, Wuthering Heights or A Tale of Two Cities instead of complaining about how boring and long it is? Nobody wants to hear you rant on about how Portrait of a Lady was a terribly long and drawn out book. That doesn’t make you sound smart. If anything, it makes you sound unappreciative of the great literature that you were privileged to read and inconsiderate of the person to whom you are ranting.

Reading good, classical literature in your middle and high school years can benefit you greatly in your future. It can improve your SAT scores, thus increasing your chance of getting accepted into a good college and, further in life, getting a good job.

Reading allows the imagination to wander. Reading keeps our imagination alive in a way that media cannot. When you read, the language and descriptions in the book give you enough information about the scene that you can let your imagination run free and fill in the tiny, minute details. Media such as television and movies give you little to no room to let your imagination take control. It is rapidly taking over the minds of America. Many people would rather watch a movie than read a few chapters of a book. Where will that leave us in a few years? Classic literature will become ancient literature; books will be a thing of the past. The way we’re headed, our best hope for literature in the future lies in the success of Nooks and Kindles.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people refer to teen novels and chick flicks as ‘literature’. Let’s take the Twilight Saga as an example. Basically, the series copies the same cliché idea of forbidden love but puts a ‘fantasy’ twist on it. I won’t go into details, but the four very long and drawn out books are about a boring, average girl trying to decide whether to fall in love with a sparkly vampire or a wolf-human hybrid with anger management problems. The books hold some kind of obsessive appeal and give girls a false view on men. They hold no truth, no good morals, unless you can pull good v. evil from ‘good vampires’ and/or ‘good werewolves’ versus ‘bad vampires’. If that is what people are calling literature these days, then I’d hate to see what they call literature in our children’s generation.

So, you see, reading truly is beneficial. Books are like portals into dream worlds- giving you the opportunity to escape from life and its hardships. Reading good, classical literature can improve your SAT scores and overall intelligence. It puts your imagination to work- and trust me, your imagination is one thing you don’t want to lose. But please, steer clear of the so called ‘literature’ the world is spitting out today. Pick up a copy of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories or one of the Narnia books and let your mind escape into the beautiful language of classic literature. Because, in the words of Mark Twain, “the man who will not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

I think there are enough good quotes in the above speech, but here's one just for kicks:
Isn't is odd how much fatter a book gets when you've read it several times? As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells... and then, when you look at the book many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower... both strange and familiar.
~Cornelia Funke

1 comment:

  1. <3 I love this... And all of the quotes in it. This makes me want to go read literature (instead of working on Physics *grumble*) :)