Philip Davis elegantly argues that reading is an existential act and that serious literature reaches neural pathways that other texts cannot
This is the first volume of a series on "The Literary Agenda" in which authors, philosophers and even neuroscientists will reassert the importance of literature in the digital age. In this eloquent book, Philip Davis does just that, exploring the power of literary texts and of reading as a creative, even existential, act. Although he is keen to avoid reducing literature to a sub-genre of self-help guides, he sees reading as a potentially transformative process, "a means of opening and reopening, innerly shifting and deepening, mental pathways". Citing the evidence of brain imaging, he argues that literary language, such as new metaphors, can have physical effects. Serious literature reaches those neural pathways that other texts cannot; it awakens a sense of ontological reality, a heightened state of being in the world and "opens out the inside place in human beings". Close reading of texts, from Dickens to Russell Hoban, is at the core of Davis's book. But this is not some dry work of academic lit crit. Rather, it is a heartfelt celebration of the value of reading.
I love that Davis sees reading as "a potentially transformative process." In light of the article, I regret that my reading is no longer that of "serious literature." Oh, I sneak in a more serious book now and then, but mostly I read for escape: mystery, science fiction, fantasy, etc.
When I was young (elementary school), my father insisted that if I continued to bring home Nancy Drew from the library, I'd also have to find something more worth while. Not knowing any better, I wandered the nonfiction aisles in the adult section and became interested in archaeology and history. I still remember books of Greek, Roman, Egyptian history, architecture, culture. Since I already loved the hundreds of National Geographics my father saved...it seemed a logical transition. Then I started reading my mother's books; she loved historical novels. What a perfect way to enjoy history, and then research for the fact and fiction in the books.
By high school, I was reading books recommended for college reading posted by my English teachers. Of course, I read the typical required reading, but also from the lists they posted about important books. (Not that I've ever abandoned my love for escape reading.)
A useless degree in English Literature, meant I had to get another in education, then an MA in English Literature. Lots more reading of classics and criticism.
Teaching meant more reading and rereading of classics and more enjoying lit crit works.
Now...mostly forgettable books and mostly for entertainment; although nonfiction still appeals, especially about WWII, I read for pleasure and adventure most of the time.