Reading books by great authors, especially dead ones, is one of the coolest ways any of us will ever get to understand some of the world’s most original minds. Therefore, we do it; we read so that we can experience multiple lifetimes and adventures outside the realm of what is practical. It’s therapeutic- reading is a true form of meditation, storytelling in general. We define experiences by the stories we tell ourselves and others. Being able to tell a good story can potentially affect millions, for good or bad. That’s fucking powerful. It’s more powerful than money, sex or fame- even though some writers are egomaniacs who secretly hope their work will lead to those things (I probably fall into that category to be fair).
Regardless, first and foremost, it’s about the work. It’s about creating something no one else has ever thought about forming and using that unique ability to help other people. Help them to understand their world and connect with the people around them. How can anyone study to be a scribe? Honestly, you can’t. You either have it or you don’t. Scribes are rock stars.
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Most people who study literature at the college level end up having to take a major literary figures class; people like William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer and John Milton used to fall into this category but now writers like Toni Morrison, Frederick Douglass, Louise Erdrich, Herman Melville are taking up the mantel. Deservingly so. For the sake of contemporary relevance and diversity, it makes sense to switch it up as time goes on. Sorry, Will, Fair is foul, and foul is fair (this quote only sort of makes sense here, don’t read into it).
Besides, Herman Melville was a boss. Moby Dick; or, The Whale is crazy and hilarious, with a ridiculously grandiose style; long sentences, excessive alliteration, one chapter is written like a play. Enter Ahab. Melville had a vision; he wanted to make fun of capitalism, meditate on life, death and a boatload of other stuff (pun intended). People didn’t understand him, and he didn’t gain true fame until after his death… Who doesn’t want to be misunderstood and then rediscovered long after they are gone?
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In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglas recounts how he used to dare white kids he could read/write better than them (even though he couldn’t) just so he could learn how to be better. At one point the man even gets in a fight with his slave ‘master’- a straight up fist fight with Covey so that said ‘master’ would know to never beat him again. Shit is powerful. Douglas’ slave narrative brought a lot of attention to obvious issues back then; Frederick Douglas has said that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” He understood the power of storytelling as one of the most accessible forms of academia, so did Toni Morrison when she wrote Beloved, for which she won the Noble…
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It’s damn near impossible and relatively foolish to try and group the best authors ever into a category, especially because popular Literature changes. It’s still great, just different. Even though they are competitive as fuck, great authors pay homage to writers who have come before on a regular basis with a simple phrase or metaphor. They aim to say something constructive about society and inspire change. Protagonists were created to show us how to be good and antagonists to show us what it means to lose one’s way (side note: check out our article dealing with literary role models). Literature used to be society’s main source of entertainment. Huge and monumental paper bricks were created, and people ate it up… then the first movie came out and reading became less and less cool. The Wizard of Oz switched to color and people be trippin’. And now, no one reads. Except for us. And sometimes we don’t even like it.
Book Nerds are a dying breed; the media tends to steer toward the visual stimuli as many of today’s leaders seem damn near illiterate. It’s exhausting, and sometimes us readers may be tired and lack the ability to use our imagination the way we need to; that’s why people don’t read, everyone wants the television to do the work for them. This is not to say television isn’t great, it’s awesome, but when you read, you become the director. Those who have the patience and the time to use their minds to create a perfect mental image which aligns with whatever narrative they have in front of them, feel the reward of true storytelling. The type of auto-pilot reading that rocks your world and blurs the rest of the room as you sit on your bed, floor, patio, bathroom sink, wherever. People read in weird places (note to self: article idea). These people can tell their non-reader friends about a book they just read in an undeniably exciting way. Enthusiasm exuberates off them in the most obnoxious and commendable of ways. The world needs these kinds of people…
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Storytelling is what grounds us as human beings; while most of the contemporary population may crave sweet new tech, some of us crave the smell of fresh pages. Sometimes they’re not even fresh. Barnes and Noble will rip you off. A better smell is one of old, stained pages previously the property of a single mother, father, janitor, chef, taxi driver, bartender, space lawyer or aspiring writer. Unsung heroes. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Kindle because it robs us of the traditional page-bending style of reading; where the physical condition of a novel is a direct reflection of the love it has been shown. Reading is a tradition rooted in humanity, it comes from US.
So, embrace this year’s Goodreads reading challenge: make your goal 365 mofo’n books, talk about the best new and old novels with anyone who will listen. They need to hear it. People were binging at the library before Netflix even existed- I thought Bird Box was only okay. Think about finally becoming adequately caffeinated enough to write the world’s next great novel that shows us something about ourselves. Actually, yeah. Do that.
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2019 will forever be known as the year of the book nerd.
In predicates, clauses, and active verbs we pray,
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