What is Literature For?
16th century French philosopher Rene Descartes once said that reading good books from the past is like having a conversation with great minds from a distant time. In that quote alone, one can say the purpose of literature has been expressed, but of course it isn’t so simple.
Imagine for a second if all the books in the world were to disappear overnight, or better still, imagine a world where not a single story was ever told, no poem ever penned. This is the world without literature, and it is certainly one I would never want to live in. For as long as we can remember, humans have passed on information from one generation to another through stories, first orally, and then written.
Of course, information could also be passed on through writing by documenting unadulterated facts. However, more often than not, we find something in the essence of stories that have a wider reach and encourage easy understanding. An example is the parable of The Good Samaritan. It would have been easier for Jesus Christ to simply instruct his followers to extend a helping hand to even people they do not know, but instead he chose to tell this story. Even as children, before we fully develop a concept of morality and ethics, it is easy to understand the moral of this story, and as adults, it makes for a good reference point when discussing issues where the same principle occurs. In other words, literature is a tool used to pass ideas with an added sweetness to help them take root in our minds because unlike facts, we can relate to stories on an emotional level.
Moving beyond what we can learn about the outward world, there is also so much to be discovered about ourselves through literature. Naturally, the more exposed we are to good literature, the better we can understand and define ourselves by bridging gaps in our knowledge and resolving conflicts in our minds.
Writer, Mark Twain once said, “He who can read, but does not read, has no advantage over he who cannot read.” With so many new mediums of accessing information, reading appears to have moved from a habit of the masses to a hobby for select enthusiasts. While other art forms like music and film do much to offer us similar benefits with regards to gaining knowledge for self-development, there is yet to be a medium as densely packed as books, allowing us the calm and sober state of reflection to assimilate the information at hand.
Through books we can get to know more about the times before us, the world around us, and even ourselves. You will be surprised just how much wonder is sat on shelves all across the world. If reading is not your ‘thing’, and you are thinking of ways to improve yourself, then maybe you might want to consider paying the bookshop a visit. It might just be what the doctor orders.