Have you ever wondered what life would be like without great literature? I’m sure some of you immediately thought Shakespeare, and groaned. True, Shakespeare is not for everyone, and in this day and age, usually is only checked out of the library by students fulfilling their required reading lists. However, his work set an example for generations of writers to come.
The beauty of literature is that with a plethora of genres and formats, there’s something for everyone. Shakespeare’s wig might have stood on end if he knew there would one day be literature categorized as “chick-lit,” “modern fantasy,” “erotica,” “fractured fairy tales,” or “graphic novels.”
Literature fills voids in our souls, as we form emotional attachments to our favorite protagonists. We rally behind them; see ourselves in their struggles. As children, we read stories about characters we identified with, and looked to them for the answers. What girl didn’t want Margaret to grow some boobs in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.? And what girl didn’t wonder when she too, would receive her monthly “friend?” In fact I found myself, in my mother’s kitchen, lifting soup cans, reciting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust,” more times than I’d like to admit, thanks to Judy Blume.
Children’s literature has come a long way from nursery rhymes depicting cows jumping over moons and mice running up clocks. And I still have no idea why Mary was always quite contrary. Maybe it was all the dusty, crusty children’s books stories she was forced to read.
But today, walk into any book store and you’ll find an entire section of imaginary worlds ready to be explored. From edgy, witty picture books such as Walter the Farting Dog, to coming of age chapter books like Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole? children are sure to never be bored. (Where were these books when I was growing up? The titles alone foreshadow bouts of roaring laughter.) And for that awkward, in-between stage---when kids are no longer children yet have not quite graduated to the adult novel, we now have Young Adult fiction.
Authors such as Suzanne Collins and K.L. Going have captured the excitement and angst that teens feel in our topsy- turvy world especially when they’re the fat kid in school or have to choose to either let a younger sister die or face the challenge of survival themselves.
And of course, what would literature be without a good, trashy romance to read on the beach? (I’ll never think of the word “grey” the same.) My bookshelf is filled with books—each signifying a particular phase in my life: the Self-Help phase (which is on-going), the Romance phase, the Spirituality phase, the Mystery phase, the What to Expect When You’re Expecting phase, the Children’s Book phase, and Young Adult phase. They are each beloved, and each a signpost of a particular time in my life. And although I haven’t read some of them in many years, I can’t bear to part with them. They are interwoven pieces of my soul.
With International Literacy Day just around the corner, it’s time to unplug from the iPhones and iPads; toss that Kindle in the corner. Take a book off the shelf—the one you’ve read many time before and been hoping to revisit---find your comfy chair and settle in for a while. The wonders and journeys of far-off places are just within your grasp. Crack open the binding, take a good whiff of old-fashioned paper and print between your fingers and make Shakespeare proud.
Read, perchance to dream.
Happy International Literacy Day!