December 28, 2010

Whether Literature Is A Waste of Time

Anna Karenina (Everyman's Library classics)“Suppose someone says that from reading Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, he or she learned something useful which they then applied to their own marriage(s), […] whereas someone else professes to have had no help at all from reading assorted novels by Anne Tyler, George Eliot, William Maxwell and Anita Brookner […]. Supposing all this, or some variant of it—are we then to say that the second someone’s reading has been a total waste of time?”

See here how Norman Geras—in response to this piece by Alain de Botton in The Wall Street Journal—answers the question.


  1. Interesting. I've read a lot all my life--perhaps I'm addicted--and I love good novels. My taste is broad, maybe overly broad; I enjoy John Grisham as much as Dostoyevsky. For me the stress is on enjoyment--it's theater of the mind. I also read a lot of history because it's also enjoyable and, to a degree, obligatory. Non-fiction on politics, foreign affairs, economics, etc are also obligatory but, to me, not much fun.

    We all know a lot of people who read a lot and a lot of people who rarely read. I see a difference in their minds, in the scope of their thinking, in their ability to discern nuance, and in the degree of curiousity they bring to life. Reading is more than just theater of the mind; it's exercise for the mind, too.

  2. ‘Literature is life. If you want to know what, deep down, people feel and experience, you can do no better than read the stories and poems of the human race. Writers of literature have the gift of observing and then expressing in words the essential experiences of people.
    The rewards of reading literature are significant. Literature helps to humanize us. It expands our range of experiences. It fosters awareness of ourselves and the world. It enlarges our compassion for people. It awakens our imaginations. It expresses our feelings and insights about God, nature, and life. It enlivens our sense of beauty. And it is a constructive form of entertainment.
    Christians should neither undervalue nor overvalue literature. It is not the ultimate source of truth. But it clarifies the human situation to which the Christian faith speaks. It does not replace the need for the facts that science and economics and history give us. But it gives us an experiential knowledge of life that we need just as much as those facts.
    Literature does not always lead us to the City of God. But it makes our sojourn on earth much more a thing of beauty and joy and insight and humanity.’

    (From Leland Ryken’s book Windows To the World: Literature in Christian Perspective)

  3. Thank you both, Carolyn and Tom, for your comments. I couldn't agree more with you.