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Debunking The Myths Around Reading Literature

Debunking The Myths Around Reading Literature

by Hanna Nasim

Breaking the Expectations and Chains around a person who Reads.

The way she talked about the things she loved, made the whole room turn to see what shone.”- Atticus

An English major studying in India is bound to hear the “why are you studying English, and that too so far away?” or “English? What can you do with a degree in English” at least fifty times during the course of their studies. And today, we are going to dive into all the questions, all the sarcastic jokes and the teasing, and set the record straight.

Myths Around Reading Literature

It is not always escapism; sometimes reading is just what our problems need. Books were banned in my house whenever we approached final exam season. “Distractions, procrastinating, dismissing your true potential, ruins your concentration” they called it. Two months spiralling alongside the gigantic syllabus, a year’s worth of notes and new projects to create and old ones to improve, with no reprieve. Inspiration and monotony can never be friends.

Be it a book with queer characters, a story about a girl who refused her legacy and went on to achieve something different, or about a group of middle schoolers that saved the world, reading is being brave. When you can’t find the courage in real life, find it with these fictional beings in their worlds. Every time I feel anxious or panic-ridden I jump into the works of Leigh Bardugo, eager to be scared about something other than deadlines and assignments, to feel like a part of something greater.

Think about it: in the grand scheme of things, where does a presentation stand, and where does Eternal Darkness and the Destruction of the Universe stand?

Things come into perspective when you compare your troubles to that one poor kid who’s about to be sacrificed for the greater good. Solutions come by faster, ideas arise better, and maturity comes earlier.

Reading Is For Nerds

Myths Around Reading Literature

Sometimes, art feels and looks too complex. Sometimes, literature is too complicated. What do we do when a math question is too difficult, or when a scientific equation is too tangled? We dissect the process into bits and work through each step, slow and steady until we see the light at the end of the tunnel. And who says that doesn’t work for English?

Reading can be both an acquired taste and a habit you never grew out of. You can pick up a book from the age of 5 and still pick another one at the age of 75. Working your way through children’s tales, onto fairytales, adventures, thrillers and fantasy, graduating to young adult fiction and slowly earning enough patience to sit through a non-fiction book. Maybe waltz into some Classics. Or roam around dusty libraries and walk through some historical fiction. Or skip ahead into the future and read some dystopian fiction. The possibilities are literally endless.

No one is saying you start with Chaucer, there is no rule that every reader must go through the works of Shakespeare, and there is no decree that says you MUST understand John Donne’s writing within the very first read. Start small, work your way through Dumas, maybe a little Tolkien, whisper lines by Dickinson to yourself, and maybe chant a few verses by Bukowski when you are feeling a little down. Literature is meant to be felt. Deep critical thinking and analysis do not come with the starter pack. But feeling the words, rolling them around in your head and picturing them is the highest form of understanding.

Learning English is easy

Now I know I said reading can be a passed down tradition, an acquired taste, a hobby or a profession, I know I said it can be easy, but that does not mean you underestimate it.

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda heads toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. “I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

- (Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss)

The Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Furious Five may be simple yet brilliant pieces of literature, easy to comprehend and with a hundred different adventures on each page, an entirely different universe on its own. But studying English at the

college level, writing a thesis about it and working a job on it is not the same as being able to guess all the spells used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

To read professionally is to go into the mind of both the author and the main character. To get a glimpse of the era in which it was written, to be able to gauge the structure of the society, the political situation, the financial situation and the historical climate from the wording, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure used in a book.

By reading one can estimate the impact enlightenment/revolutionary literature had on the people and what they chose to do about the political climate of their land or country. Love as a concept grew infinitely larger during the Romanticism era. Reality and Literature were integrated together with Realism. Books have helped the world get to where we are now, and it was all because people worked hard to find a deeper meaning in a bunch of words strung together in a certain order.

In short, reading can be a hobby. It can be homework. It can be your job. It is fluid and cannot be pushed and folded into any one box. Sure that kid who is always silent and stays in class during lunch reads very big books but who knows maybe the school jock and head boy spends his free time working his way through Grapes of Wrath. The sensible, bespectacled and freckled character in your show might have read War and Peace when they were 15 years old, but there is always a chance the lip-ringed, tattooed, impulsive and adventurous love interest has perused everything by Proust before they even graduated.

Don’t discriminate against books. Reading has always been cool.

Authors I recommend: John Green, Jhumpa Lahiri (see Interpreter of Maladies), and Mark Manson.

- Hanna Nasim

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