This I Believe
“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.” – Henry Rollins, American singer, author & actor
My body and soul have often been “resuscitated” by works of literature. I have learned much of what I know about life from literature. In fact, in this time of increasingly complex technology, cell phones and violence on the streets and on TV, I believe that literature is even more needed. Because I teach literature and writing courses to adult students, and as I read two to three books a week, I know this need intimately.
At 25, I discovered the first writer whose works I fell in love with. May Sarton’s Kinds of Love and Journal of a Solitude opened up many possibilities for me. Not only did I discover, in Journal of a Solitude, a quiet, intense soul who lived for books and animals and friends, as did I, but also I discovered in Kinds of Love that female friendship is a pinnacle of life, not merely competitive as many women think. I read every book Sarton had written, and as a result, I began to write more creatively.
From books by authors like Barry Lopez, Henry Beston and Mary Oliver, I learned more about other creatures – dogs, cats, elephants, wolves, dolphins, horses. I learned that caring as deeply for other creatures as for humans is not shallow. I learned that unless we do care for other creatures deeply, we will continue to mistreat them and to cut back on their habitats. In treating them well, we also treat ourselves well. They help us, and we help them. Literature helped reinforce these ideas for me.
In other books, including titles by Michael Ondaatje, Amy Tan and Temple Grandin, I learned about other cultures, and other times. I learned from Tim O’Brien how awful war is, and how difficult soldiers’ lives are. No movie or textbook could teach me more about how it feels to b far from home at war than The Things They Carried. From Wendell Berry, I learned more about the continuing importance of commitment to marriage and community.
Books always make me feel connected to the whole world. They console me. Even though I fear death, reading books by Donald Hall about his wife, Jane Kenyon’s, death and his impending death make me contemplate its inevitability less timidly.
Literature remains necessary today because, in many ways, the world is in trouble. Literature can help us remember how our ancestors solved their life problems, how men and women have loved, worked, warred, and died. Literature can make us feel less alone – and can reconnect us to at least one community, the community of readers. This is a huge community, one that all of us need more than ever.
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