Why I read literature

power of languageEvery once in a while I will enter the name of my blog into a search engine so I can see if anything turns up. Typically there is very little of interest, but occasionally something will startle or rankle. The other day, for instance, I found that someone had commandeered a few lines from one of my pieces and had inserted them into a very public rant about her ex-boyfriend and his offenses.

“Well, really,” I thought, “my high art?”

Then I thought about how, throughout my life, I have taken the words of other writers and have gulped them down whole — so desperate was I to give voice to my sorrows in ways that ennobled them and so uncertain was I of my own ability to persuade another that I existed.

When in The Vanity of Human Wishes Samuel Johnson wrote “life protracted is protracted woe,” he couldn’t have known that at 20 I’d find in the line a holy rhythm that would somehow elevate my youthful sadnesses to a higher realm and, in the process, redeem them. Or, when in As I Lay Dying William Faulkner had his main character, Addie Bundren, declare that “coming unalone is terrible,” he couldn’t have imagined that these four words would reverberate in me for forty years before I could come to understand anything about what they had to do with my life.

4 comments

  1. Everything appears to be up for grabs. It’s pretty sad when people lack the imagination to choose their own words and not even put quotation marks around them.

    1. I suppose when we take the leap of faith to start a blog, we say to the world — or to anyone out there willing to listen to us — “What’s mine is yours.” Thanks so much for taking time out of your day to leave me a comment.

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