A case for reading literature

By Sakina Haji | Guest Columnist

I recently led a group of incoming freshmen through Welcome Week, discussing with them their classes for this semester. Many of them are taking the usual religion or introductory English classes, wanting to quickly get rid of the requirements. All Baylor students are required to take British Literature and American or World Literature, and many of us slog through these classes to get them over with. This is certainly the impression many incoming students have.

But, in a society that increasingly values people and education by the amount of hard skills they provide on the job, reading fiction is a lost art, seen as too time consuming and pointless. If I have time to read, why not read something that will advance my career, such as the newest economic theory or most recent scientific development? Or, they think, I have already been reading for classes all day, so why not cool down with an episode of “The Office?” These are all understandable concerns, but I urge students to give literature a chance before they are overwhelmed by lengthy required readings in their other courses.

Sure, reading improves our vocabulary and must make us better writers, but a variety of texts can help us achieve that. Fictional literature in particular, enriches our daily lives. I love reading about philosophy and economics, tackling complex arguments and equations, but at the end of the day I like to sit down with a good book that transports me to a different place, ancient Greece perhaps, or 19th century Paris.

With literature, there is no time-period or place in the world that is inaccessible. Most importantly, sitting in Moody Library, I can glimpse into the mind of a soldier during the Spanish Civil War in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway, feel the palpitations of a young man inexplicably caught in a complex bureaucracy in “The Trial” by Franz Kafka, or get swayed in the emotional turmoil of a woman in a loveless marriage in “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. Reading cultivates an imagination, allowing us to experience a past society, an alternative present one, or a fictional future one. There are endless possibilities for what can happen within the covers of a book.

Literature also provides meaning and inspiration in other parts of our lives. Often, we learn a moral truth from the mistakes of characters (I am thinking about Madame Bovary’s unchecked love affairs and lies, of course), or finally empathize with historical situations that seem incomprehensible (such as old social conventions we now find silly).

Reading is not just an intensely personal experience in which the reader grapples with the text, but a communal one. No doubt every reader brings his/her own experiences to a book, coloring its interpretation, but through reading he/she interacts with the community of the author, the characters, and the present one of other readers.

So, I urge you to pick up a good book and read whenever you are idling about campus. Allow yourself to be transported and learn a thing or two about a different place and time. Allow yourself to have an adventure, all while sitting in the comforts of Moody Library.