When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.
– Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou passed away recently and left behind a legacy through her literature. This quote above has always resonated with me because I have been through it. I have experienced it.
Literature has been my teacher. It has, for a long time, been a way through which I make sense of the world. By literature, I mean both fiction and non-fiction, plays and poetry. I mean, the books I have read, and the stories I have loved, and the characters I have rooted for.
Literature has life-giving power because literature is unique bites wrapped in universal themes. Good literature connects with us on a human level. We can relate to it, whether because of the experiences we’ve had, the emotions we’ve felt, or the dreams we’ve dreamt. This connection tethers us to the world around us. It gives us something to hold on to. It gives us the ultimate hope that every soul needs: you are not alone.
Here are the five ways to experience the life-giving power of literature:
1. Read regularly
This is a no-brainer, yet most people don’t do it. They save the reading for an annual summer vacation. You need to read. I’m not saying you need to become book-a-holic (though as far as addictions go, I like this one), but you could make reading a regular part of your life. When you have downtime, instead of always vegetating in front of the TV, open a book some time.
An average adult with a full-time job, spouse and kids, should at least be able to finish a book a month. That’s mere 12 books a year. If you are doing more, great. But if you are doing less, then start with this simple goal of reading one book per month.
You are entitled to read whatever you like. I mean it. But don’t just rule out things before you’ve tried them. If you have always read only thrillers, or only romance novels, or only fantasy – try something else. For every 5 fantasy (or your preferred genre) books, read 1 book from another genre, or a play, a book of poems, or even non-fiction. Broaden your horizons. Become an eclectic reader.
There are good stories being told in countless ways, in nearly every different area. Sometimes, you learn more by visiting foreign lands, and the same thing applies to reading books that are foreign to you.
The key to experimenting successfully is to start with tried and tested. When you try a new genre, go with the best in that field, so that even if you don’t like it, you know you tried with good quality material, as opposed to some random trash that even lovers of that genre don’t read.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but I will say it anyway: don’t just give up after one try. If you tried horror and absolutely hated it, fine. Pass. But then try another genre. Don’t return to your cocoon of fantasy after one tiny step out of Hogwarts or Middle Earth.
3. Talk about books
Reading books is great, but when you get to discuss them with like-minded people, it is both a pleasure and an activity for broadening your mind. Did they get the same thing as you from a particular book? Or was their experience different?
Was it different because you both lead a different life? Are you able to see from their perspective or you have no idea how could they have possibly found Frodo endearing?
Discussing books is a way to mine deeper into the material. If you don’t know anyone who likes talking about books, that’s not even an issue these days, because you can join in online discussions forums. Go on somewhere like Goodreads, and you will find plenty of people who share the same taste in books as you do.
4. Keep a reading journal
Keeping a reading journal is about connecting deeper with your reading. Do you read books, and just forget about them? Or do you like something, but are you at a loss to figure out what you liked, or why certain character appealed to you? Or perhaps you just want to remember the name of the book you read, or the author, or your favourite character.
A reading journal helps you do all that and more. Keeping a reading journal is like having a book club by yourself. You can keep track of your reading, your changing taste in material, and your ability to discover personal meaning through texts. You can also use it for scholarly pursuits of dissecting and analysing texts.
5. Create or participate in a reading challenge
Reading challenges help, because you have a target. There are all sorts of challenges online. Or you can just create your own. Whether you want a challenge of reading 12 books in 12 months or a genre challenge…whatever it is, you could use it as a way to consciously become a better reader.
Follow the above five steps regularly, or even some of them, and you will begin to feel the life-giving power of literature.