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Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.

~C. S. Lewis

There is no other category of human thought that covers more ground and in such great depth as literature. If you don't find that exciting, then just make a note of it  for future reference. It might make a difference in your life someday.

So what is literature? A better question is this: What is literature to you? But that's a messy way of looking at things; and traditional approaches to popular education abhor messiness. So here is the tidy 20th century categorization of literature that reflects a 19th century Anglo-American worldview.


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The Shell and the Book

A child and a man were one day walking on the seashore when the child found a little shell and held it to his ear. Suddenly he heard sounds,--strange, low, melodious sounds, as if the shell were remembering and repeating to itself the murmurs of its ocean home. The child's face filled with wonder as he listened. Here in the little shell, apparently, was a voice from another world, and he listened with delight to its mystery and music. Then came the man, explaining that the child heard nothing strange; that the pearly curves of the shell simply caught a multitude of sounds too faint for human ears, and filled the glimmering hollows with the murmur of innumerable echoes. It was not a new world, but only the unnoticed harmony of the old that had aroused the child's wonder.

Some such experience as this awaits us when we begin the study of literature, which has always two aspects, one of simple enjoyment and appreciation, the other of analysis and exact description. Let a little song appeal to the ear, or a noble book to the heart, and for the moment, at least, we discover a new world, a world so different from our own that it seems a place of dreams and magic. To enter and enjoy this new world, to love good books for their own sake, is the chief thing; to analyze and explain them is a less joyous but still an important matter. Behind every book is a man; behind the man is the race; and behind the race are the natural and social environments whose influence is unconsciously reflected. These also we must know, if the book is to speak its whole message. In a word, we have now reached a point where we wish to understand as well as to enjoy literature; and the first step, since exact definition is impossible, is to determine some of its essential qualities.

-- William J. Long in Literature



What do Math and Literature Have In Common?

What do mathematics and literature have in common? At the risk of sounding cynical (which I am on this point), formal schooling ruins them both.  For mathematics, it's largely a matter of getting weary of mastering skills that have no apparent meaning -- beyond a final grade, of course. For literature, it's a matter of taking something very subjective and ethereal and reducing it to a slew of multiple choice questions and short essays that might not have any real relevance to the authors' intent. It's tragic ... the way academia traditionally objectifies beauty and obscures the essence of the human spirit. All in the name of an orderly education.

This is why you might see comments here such as "make literature your own." You find what you like, and soar as high and as far as you like. And when you begin losing interest, grow into a different historical period or genre ... wherever this vast and breathlessly beautiful stuff call "literature" wants to take you.






David L. Heiserman, Editor

Copyright   SweetHaven Publishing Services
All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015