22 January, 2011

Rediscovering the joys of literature

Halfway through my present university education, I've noticed a worrying side effect of my education. I've lost a lot of my literary sense. Powering through thousands of pages of course books has taught me to try to remember the main factual content right away. Skimming the pages of management books requires a good sense of what the key content is, at least if one wants to save a lot of effort in the learning process. This is a useful skill, especially when reading other factual texts. It never hurts to discern the main arguments of a writer right away, and skipping - or rather skim-reading - the extra stuff certainly is a valuable timesaver.

The problem is, I seem to have lost the sense how to read more emotional literature. Well, serious literature, at any rate. I can still pick up any thriller and read it with the same ease as ever before, but with the more heavy novels I'm in trouble. These books owe their effects to a process of identification and affection with the characters and/or situations. The point of such a book is to make one feel, and that feeling then provokes thinking. Trying to see behind the story while reading results in nothing sensible, since one needs to read the story first and think about it afterward. Trying to do these simultaneously makes no sense, since the story is a whole not reducible to its parts. The same thing is with movies, the scenes are part of a story, and in a good movie few scenes would make that much of an impact on their own. At the moment, with my course book reading style I get stuck, trying to see the idea behind some character way too early. It's as sane as trying to analyze the motives and desires of a person you've just met and hardly even know at all.

The books of this limbo world of sorts are not everywhere. Books, which are very literary, yet have a lot to say. This includes some obvious works in philosophy, like Nietzsche, but also a lot of classics. Not the kind of books to pick up amidst a tight schedule and stress. Exactly the kind of books I've previously avoided and am only now filling my shelves with. I guess that is why I've managed to avoid noticing this obvious lack for so long.

Luckily, now I have a lot of time to read, and besides a share of factual literature I'll pinch in pieces of the aforementioned genre. According to my high school Finnish and literature teacher, one can never go wrong with classics. Time to see if she was right!

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