Why study literature?

Two editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, which turns 50 this year, take a shot at answering that question in this New York Times interview. In the process, current general editor Stephen Greenblatt asks a profound question: "What would it mean for a culture to give up on its past?"


Actually it is more complicated then giving us insight into experiences we would rather not live through first hand. It allows us to experience things that sound splendid second hand but awful first hand. Not many of us would really like to try to personally tear off Grendel's arm with our bare hands but it sounds splendid when drinking mead among the sturdy Carls and Thanes.
What better reason could their be, Ellen? His literary tastes? Maybe it is which books about coffee that he likes?
Well, he doesn't always say, "It's perfect!" to be honest. So, when he does, I know that I made an especially good mocha that day. :)

Speaking of literature documenting our lives and giving us insight to experiences we'd rather not go through firsthand, I highly recommend _The Devil in Pew Number Seven_, a riveting true story of persecution and forgiveness.


I happened upon it at my local library and read all of it in one day.
And, Jason, those of us who know her would think Ellen incapable of making any other kind of mocha, right?

Very clever of you, Gina, to simultaneously recognize a Pointificator's special event and also hint to all of us that a culture giving up on its past is not unlike a couple deciding that their anniversary is no longer worth celebrating. Very clever; must be why you're the blog editor and the rest of us aren't. So you're saying that great literature is like photos of the wedding and other remembrances of the couple's life together, both good times and bad?
He enjoys a "perfect mocha" made by yours truly once in a while, Jason. I didn't marry him for his drinking habits. ;)
Oh, yes, happy 16th, Ellen and Todd!!
Did you convince your husband to drink coffee yet Ellen?
Happy (belated) anniversary, Ellen!
Because if you're tired of this planet one can always try another one for a few hours?
Well stated, Rolley.

As part of our story, we've been camping on our sailboat for the past two weeks to escape the wildland fire smoke in the Wood River Valley. And I'm loving the fact that Gina published this post on our 16th wedding anniversary - rather lovely to celebrate that part of our story by sailing and camping on our boat with our two children while surrounded by God's gorgeous creation.

We read literature because it recounts what makes our hearts sing, what makes our hearts grieve and everything in between. The written story can capture our attention and give us an exhilarating experience.
You and I Are Writing the Best Literature of All
This thought predominates with me:

We love literature because it’s ultimately all about us, about humanity. Piecemeal, it’s our Story, a story of high drama and mystery and suspense.

That’s true even of us Christians; we too have questions and doubts. Many important things in life are still obscure. We may know the Ending, but we cannot begin to guess at the Denouement. We see good and evil in perpetual conflict and wonder how, exactly, will theodicy resolve in the end?

Literature hints at how it might happen and gives us the thrill of hope rooted in articulable rationale that, while not always explicitly Biblical, is not necessarily anti-Biblical, either. ‘Illustrative’ is the word I want.

And illustration helps, because though we’ve read The Lord of the Rings twenty times, our hearts still pound until Frodo finally casts the ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Why? Because in a sense that’s us; we have only just entered Mordor, the all-seeing Eye is frantically searching the horizon, and Gollum hounds our every step. Sure, we know how it all ends, but that doesn’t keep us from rereading it with our hearts in our throats. Because it’s great literature, a great story, our Story -- and it’s still ongoing.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, in the end, when the Grand Story is fully told, many of the accompanying illustrations in that Mighty Tome don’t come from our most beloved and enduring works of literature.
I suppose "it makes life worth living" is a good answer.

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