For this week’s post I thought I would share my thoughts on the power of books and the influence of literature. I would also like to compare the level of reading that takes place on the Internet as opposed to the reading of a book. I have read a few articles on the hotly debated idea that high levels of interaction with the Internet could be ruining our concentration and changing the way we think as opposed to the reading of a book. So in order to brainstorm some ideas about the power of books and the influence of literature, I will be using the format of a personal essay which is in response to the following essay question:
“Look at my bookshelf! These are the books I read. To what extent can literature have an influence on or affect people’s lives? Discuss and explore.”
“I recollect nothing of learning to read; I only remember what effect the first considerable exercise of it produced on my mind; from that moment I date an uninterrupted knowledge of myself’” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1923, p. 7).
I cannot envision my life without books, and by books, I mean the good old fashioned paperback, not the static digital downloads that are on offer today. The humble book, whether it be a collection of short stories or a complex novel, have been to me, as Amos Bronson Alcott so aptly described, “books are…the best of companions, accessible at any moment…[and they] reward me with their company” (1872, p. 133).
Books provide me with an opportunity to open my imagination. They invite and entice me to embark on cost-free journeys to undiscovered realms and have enlarged my vocabulary.
I have been reading since I was very young and back then I would have read almost anything, even fashionista magazines, like Cleo and Women’s Weekly. Books of all genres have had a profound influence on me and have instilled a great love of the written word and a passion for writing. I had no need for pictures or illustrations, for the words and my imagination conjured up the necessary images, to visualize the scenarios contained.
I would spend hours going through my nana’s bookshelf and explore the Reader Digest, starting with the humorous section“Mere Male” and then onto the “Real Life” story for that edition. I then started working my way through autobiographies, such as Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Above all, my favorite books were: The Anne of Green Gables series, The Narnia Chronicles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Lord of the Rings, and John’s Bunyan’s A Pilgrims Progress. My bookshelf still includes some of these books and I find myself going back and reading them again and again and still they enthrall me.
In high school, I was introduced to the unique realm of poetry and enjoyed reading and experiencing poems by literary wordsmiths, such as the Australian poet, Kenneth Slessor, in particular, ‘Beach Burial’, a mournful but beautifully crafted elegy for unnamed soldiers that were washed ashore at El Alamein. As Anthony Lawrence says about his introduction to poetry “… these poems gave me something I’d never encountered: a need to live for my imagination” (The Paper Trail 2010, p. 40).
My latest literary rambles have taken me into the world of the likes of Josephine Cox, whose novels are predominately set in Blackburn, England, in the 1800’s. I have spend many hours with the well rounded and engaging characters of Joy Fielding, the very down to earth and hilariously eventful novels of Sophie Kinsella, and have been riveted by the thrilling, nail biting suspense of James Patterson – just to name a few.
This is not to say that I have not read other works of literature, in order to understand the world of the past and present. During my course of study, books of academia have been added to my repertoire and have served to enrich my life in ways that a humble story cannot. I have enjoyed reading books on art, music and history, but my book of choice has always been a work of fiction.
A story is a work of art in itself and the interest in storytelling is universal, whether it be a child reading a book for the first time or an adult watching a movie. The practice of storytelling is intrinsic to how we communicate and are entertained. Above all other mediums, through which storytelling is conveyed, none has the potential to draw us in, to hold us spellbound, but the unassuming book. But even more than storytelling, books have ignited revolutions, provided people with the opportunity to read in their own language, and to have access to information that was previously withheld from them.
In a world that is addicted to the power of technology, and a digital cyberworld that demands our attention, where we are compelled to work and play almost at the speed of light, the book invites us to draw aside, to curl up in our favourite chair, turn off the incessant mobile phone and enjoy a good yarn.
My bookshelf predominately contains books that are devoted to stories, from the impressive novel, that can suck you in and destroy a holiday as it has done many times for me, to the short story that can “… lay claim to a kind of completeness that eludes the novel” (Millhauser 2008).
During my short stint in youth work, I came across young people who had never read a book of any kind. Literature was a word from a foreign language and if they were ever tempted to try to read a book, it would have to contain pictures. Their attention span did not reach beyond the email, the phone text, or the next tweet.
As this world seems to get smaller due to the advances in technology and conversation is fast becoming limited to Facebook and Twitter – how does the book compete? Every now and then I visit my local library and am amazed to see people still reading and borrowing real books.
I believe that literature is so essential to our development and for our understanding of the world around us and our place in it. Exposure to reading literature should start from a young age as it enlarges the imagination and introduces a child to the greater world. Literature has the power to influence and affect people’s lives in many ways and one of the most defining influences is the level of interaction a book invites as opposed to the type of reading that takes places on the Internet.
In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that “the Internet could be altering the very structure of our brains” (Carr in Harris 2010). He also raises an interesting comparison between the type of reading on the Internet and the reading of a book. The Internet’s “cacophony of stimuli” and “crazy quilt” of information have given rise to “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” – in contrast to the age of the book, when intelligent humans were encouraged to be contemplative and imaginative” (Carr in Harris 2010).
But despite these Internet-based concerns by Carr and others, as long as people continue to read books and to write the stories that are contained within their pages, the power of the book and the influence of literature will continue to remain as a central part of our personal lives and our society.
Alcott Bronson Amos 1872, Concord Days, June, Books p. 133, Published by
Roberts Brothers. Boston. U.S.A.
Harris J 2010, ‘How the internet is altering your mind‘, The Guardian, viewed 14 March, 2016.
Lawrence A 2010, ‘Paper trail’, in Krauth, N & Brady, T, The Clunes little book of the book: five leading authors reflect on their relationship with the book, Creative Clunes, Clunes, Victoria, pp. 39-46.
Milhauser S 2008, ‘The Ambition of the Short Story‘ The New York Times, p. 31.
Rousseau Jean-Jacques 1923, ‘The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Part One, Book 1, P. 7. Published by Alfred. A. Knopf, New York
Lehrer J 2010, ‘Our Cluttered Minds‘ , from Hasselberger, William. “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” Sunday Book Review, The New York Times, Web. 15 March, 2016.
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