By Kyle Kuczynski
I stand at the bar, tumbler of whisky in hand, among other fresh-faced youth, genially exchanging the pleasantries of social discourse and I often reveal that I am an English literature major. The response I consistently receive is, “Oh! I love reading too!” “And what is it that you love reading?” I quizzically respond.
The responses are a predictable list (sometimes with unnecessary upward inflection): the latest teen dramas, dystopian action romances and other slop which somehow found itself ladled from a toilet and bound into cheap paperback book form. Forgive my diatribe, but these works fulfill a limited role as entertainment value.
While dollar store paperbacks may occasionally light a finger upon the pulse of pop culture, they fail to tickle and twist your wit or confound you into a feverish, writhing mass of epiphany. They do not expand your vocabulary or capacity for critical thinking. They do not afford you the opportunity to participate in conversations which have taken place for centuries. They do not significantly shape your conceptualization of the world, nor do they allow your peers to conceive of you as being particularly witty. Only literature affords such things.
The experience of analyzing literature is meant to be authentic. There is no need to cry like Keats, coo like Coleridge or be as pithy as Pope, merely for the pleasure of, “wandering lonely as a cloud” like a pretentious romantic. No, instead, the experience ought to be exhausting as you pour your eyes over texts, plumbing the depths of their grammar, diction and syntax, all so that you may begin to fathom true wit.
You must read literature to alter your consciousness and writhe in a puddle of your own revelation. Such a task is mind-bending. Your thoughts will pale in comparison to many of your peers and professors. You will assert ill-conceived arguments and you will begin to understand the limit of your wit. You may feel pretentious for even attempting to dissect these complicated texts, but do not fear.
If you apply yourself properly, you will reveal that your pretensions are nothing but realizations in waiting. Your consistent effort in attempting to comprehend literature will correlate directly to your skill in disputation, expand your faculty for succinct reasoning and enlarge your capacity for elevated cunning.
You will begin to wield language in a persuasive manner, which will sooth your friends and berate your foes. Your conversations will be charred in fiery debate. Your audience will be smitten by your wit and charmed by your compelling ability to articulate logic and reasoning. Despite such seriousness, your sense of humor will improve as you discover how to satirize a fool.
Pop culture has the power to dictate your self-conceptualization, but literature allows you to transcend this by affording a consciousness separate from yourself. Pop culture molests the mind, whereas literature guards it. Literature is timeless; it does not require a like, a hashtag or a tweet to remain relevant and compelling. You will be made all the more conscious of past, present and future, becoming an informed member of society, capable of cutting through envenomed rhetoric meant to steal your money, your vote and your rights. In this way, literature can become an agent of change within your day-to-day interactions with the world.
Any fool can read and summarize a text, but what is more compelling is your ability to construct an interpretive argument that persuades others to take up your reasoning. In this ability there is the power to transcend appearances and surface-level assumptions.
By reading literature you are taking part in a time-honored practice of self-improvement and mental expansion, which yokes together many mental faculties in the interest of expressing your elevated wit and cunning. So please, throw away your pop culture garbage and read a real book.
Kyle Kuczynski studies English literature. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.