On January 22, 2009, I had this to say about literature on a blog that will remain nameless, not because I begrudge her a tip of my hat, but because I feel slightly awkward re-purposing it for my own gratification. I’m bad that way.
Reading good literature:
1. Exposes readers to what a well-constructed sentence looks like, sounds like, feels like.
2. Introduces unsurpassed words, images, ideas, and feelings.
3. Provides unique access to the qualia of others’ lives.
4. Demands thoughtfulness, as good readers must be attuned to changing points of view, the glories of characterization, and the causal constraints of plots, etc.
5. Encourages self-clarification, -knowledge.
6. Sharpens powers of observation through metaphor, myth, and analogy.
7. Encourages empathy for and tolerance of others (speculative), i.e., we’re better insight psychologists as a result of reading about characters in stories.
8. Improves abstract and social reasoning and as well as cultivates prudence (speculative).
Of course, I wish 7-8 weren’t merely speculative. I wish they were certitudes known by all. I wish that reading the world’s great literature (profane is sane!) is the surest path to moral improvement.
But I have my doubts.
Now, while these may be effects of reading, they don’t figure as reasons or motives for why I read, at least not largely. In truth they strike me as too intellectual. I’m wary of them, suspicious. They might pick my pocket when I’m not looking. Maybe my reading of Herzog is to blame. Moses, that poor old bastard, that rejected husband and washed-up scholar, loves abstractions; he delights in categories. And look where it gets him. Mired. He’s just as likely to state a truth as he is to spit venom.
Anyhow, I don’t read for these reasons. Or if I do, I read for all of them and none of them, as the case may be. Have I just performed an academic pirouette, my answer, that is? I hope not, I don’t think so. I read for enjoyment and insight, for distraction and entertainment. But mostly I read because no matter what state of mind I’m in, I can readily find a reason to read, be it what it may.
And any old reason will do.