Booking Through Thursday asks:
I am paraphrasing from a friend’s Facebook wall her question:
“How would a teen-age boy who is going to work with his hands ever use Literature of England in his work?”
The age-old “How am I going to use this in real life?” question. How would you answer it?
Very interesting question with, of course, multiple answer approaches.
I have to channel my 11th-grade English teacher a little here, because the vague question amuses me. When I wrote essays in high school, he brutally used his pen to scratch any mention of “this.” This what? He would ask, and he would waste class time to lecture us every time he encountered it. “Explain yourself. This what?”
So this question brings back memories of that guy, his eccentric hatred of the word, and I think I know why he disliked it so much. This what? How will I use what in real life? The knowledge I gained from literature, both instructional and cumulative? The stories I enjoyed? The act of reading (closely)? Or just books in general?
Let’s insert them one by one into the question and answer them. The answers overlap in their most basic ways, such as to expand knowledge base or to connect, but each one highlights a different application of literature. To me, at least.
How will I use the knowledge I gained from literature in real life?
This one is the most self-evident out of all the questions, because if I’m reading an instructional book, the only reason why I wanted to read it is because I wanted to do that one thing better. Cumulative knowledge, though, is a different matter. Knowledge I gained cumulatively from books means whatever parables and life stories I read that could apply in my life. They speak to me because they make me think about my own experiences and help me form opinions by either supplying the questions or providing answers that I did not consider before. An example of this is Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton. The story she presented was engaging enough that I often drew comparisons of myself to the characters and imagining what I would do were I in that situation. Or, another way of phrasing this tendency to compare is that I take the characters’ traits which most describe me and look to the stories to see how they manifest and affect the character.
For example, if a character is too reserved and unwilling to put his/her opinions forward, they risk letting the world pass them by, becoming spectators not people who enjoy their lives to the fullest. I can relate to this. It’s good to remember how this trait expresses itself to serve as a reminder that life should be lived. In other words, I look to books for guidance and characters as examples of life trajectories.
How will I use the stories I enjoyed in real life?
This is more structural-oriented than the first question, since I deconstruct the stories I like for its elements, and attempt to figure out what it is about the story that appealed to me. Was it the voice the author used? The choice of words? The characters? The lush descriptions of the world they inhabit? If I enjoy a story, I like to play with it in my head, extending the characters by adding my own scenes. What would this guy do if this happened? I do this in a quest to identify the elements of writing that are most pleasing to me. Why? So that when I discuss the stories I like, I can pinpoint exactly what did it for me structurally, in order to make better recommendations, to sound smarter, or what have you. (Also to help me write, but this is a minor point since I haven’t written stories for years.)
How will I use the act of reading literature (closely) in real life?
Kind of a basic question but again, the answer is different from the first two. I added the “closely,” in parenthesis because asking how I will use the act of reading literature is slightly silly. We read to expand our minds, to entertain ourselves, or to be someone else for the length of the book, but to read closely, I think, adds a different dimension, or so I’m proposing. The phrase “reading closely” reminds me of another English teacher, this time a professor in college, whose class was highly entertaining even if a little useless.
We read poems for a semester and attempted to analyze each word to decode multiple meanings that the author could have intended. There was always the one interpretation that he championed, but he was pretty open to what we, coddled 19-year-old sophomores who thought we were hot stuff, had to say. I remember it being highly entertaining because he would attempt to direct the conversation to one interpretative analysis, but us students would raise our hands and offer opinions that were made-up, off-base, or just simply pulled from our awesome bottoms. He never looked frustrated but he kept emphasizing that the analysis he wanted to engage in isn’t necessarily the right one, but we shouldn’t make things up without putting in any thought. Ah, good times.
Anyway, the reason why I brought up that class is because even though I felt reading the poems was useless, I did learn to dissect words in order to make observations about the authors and what they are implying. Of course all of my observations is guesswork and like my professor’s warnings, my analyses aren’t necessarily the right ones, but at least they would be based on the words that the author used and come from some tangential evidence. They wouldn’t be observations I’m pulling out of thin air. And this is probably one of the most useful skills I learned in college. I make the jump from reading poems to reading people, from the gestures they use, to the words they say, to their tics and personal aberrations to try to understand them better, to read their emotions, to get a fuller picture of who they are.
How will I use books, generally in real life?
The most simple, and the most universal answer to the question “How will I use this [books] in real life?” is to connect to others. Books aren’t just forms of entertainment. If we take it out of that smaller context and think about why books are important to our society, maybe even to our humanity, I think the answer is because books connect us to other people, whose recorded thoughts are passed on for reading, like connecting to the matrix, or, a more recent (and infinitely dorkier) simile, connecting to Eywa through the neuro-conductive trees. We are not alone with our ideas because we can “plug-in” to society’s consciousness and connect with someone else’s thoughts and stories that they took care to write to tell us. Books are the conduits to knowledge and experiences, so to read is to tap into the wealth of human wisdom.