I’ve had a craving, burning hunger of late that just won’t go away. It’s been with me for some time now and it’s not for a good meal or a devilish bakery treat (those go without saying).
I’m talking about the need to read…… all the books that keep accumulating on my list, shelved in my memory or on random pieces of paper about the house.
There is nothing more satisfying and fulfilling as diving into a good read and letting ourselves surrender to its words. I love it, but never seem to have enough time for reading books these days.
I’ve become accustomed to reading (even skimming) more ‘articles’ or blog ‘posts’, in quick digestible bursts these days; at the kitchen bench while stirring a pan, by the tub while the kids bath, and if lucky the 10 mins or so before my eye lids crash at the end of a day.
Pleasure can be found in reading full stop, but I reckon especially in books; whether fiction or non, fantasy or philosophy.
Books fill our lives with not just stories, but experiences, memories, images, adventure, an appreciation for others and at best, life lessons.
“We should read not just because it makes us interesting and attractive but because it can open our hearts and minds to so many things”. (whytoread.com)
Luxuriously wandering the shelves of a book shop recently, while chatting with girlfriends, made me consider (and not for the first time as an English teacher) what makes a ‘great’ read?
One worthy of our ‘valuable’ time.
While there is no shortage of popular fiction out there (I’m a fan), there are some reads that just seem to stand the test of time and become woven into the fabric of our society.
Literature it’s called, and for all its supposed importance and influence, it’s a curious realm to define and one that intrigues me.
So what makes it into this realm, who are these Literary Greats and what have their works offered us?
Why have they remained when others have not? And do they really offer us more than any of the others out there?
I’m just about to begin ‘A Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley, what was once a set school text and often on those ‘Books to Read before You Die’ lists (which incidentally are always very subjective).
That’s me, never read it but feel like I should. Not just so that I have a point of reference when others mention it at a swanky dinner party (of which I am yet to be invited), I also happen to like this genre ‘Dystopic fiction’ so am happy to indulge.
I think it’s fair to say that of the ‘Literary Greats’ that exist out there (and this in itself is always up for debate) there are some common elements they all share; a lovely turn of phrase, they push/ed the boundaries of their time, offer deep insight into us as humans, context influenced them profoundly and they deliver a powerful message (or universal themes), which still resonate today on some level.
Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ was written during an age of intellectual, artistic, social and scientific upheaval.
Her novel originally published anonymously (females still considered inferior beings!) delves deep into philosophical and ethical issues for the individual and mankind. She also helped create a new genre (Science Fiction) but in its day, her novel was considered nothing more than popular fiction.
‘Twilight’ is a great work of Popular Fiction too, but I’m not sure it had any profound message to impart on the people of our world?
It did offer that most appealing of all universal themes ‘forbidden love’ and escapism at its best, so maybe that too should be valued?
Likewise, William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ can be read on varied levels, as a boy’s adventure story or a parable of our flawed humanity. Interestingly, this novel was not popular fiction in its day.
Only years later (after going out of print) did it make its mark on a world still coming to terms with post-war fall-out. Either way, its message is bold and brilliant (I think, anyway).
Maybe then the power in reading any book lies not in the ‘greatness’ of its esteem, but in the messages we choose to take from it?
But then again, maybe it’s also just about purpose? Am I reading for pleasure or for enlightenment?
Those books that have left their mark on me, like a valued friend, have often done both these.
They draw me in, provide insight and guidance, comfort and sometimes even offer a well needed reality check.
They inspire, provoke and intrigue.
That’s what great literature, BOOKS! do and I’m always left wanting more.
Now……. just to solve that tiny issue of time. Maybe there’s a book in that?