Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Because we cannot know enough people"

When I was a college freshman—back when I liked to read obscure books to satisfy my pretension—I stumbled upon a genre I had never heard of before, in a book and author who were equally unfamiliar: Novelists and Novels, a collection of essays in literary criticism by Harold Bloom.
          Cool! I thought, this guy has read all the cool books that I have, and even some that I haven’t! Too cheap to buy the book, I spent hours at the BYU bookstore, flipping through Bloom’s essays, anxious to hear what he thought about Jane Eyre, Sons and Lovers, The Sound and the Fury, Ulysses. I subscribed completely to Bloom’s philosophy: reading well means seeking for aesthetic and spiritual wisdom, not collecting ammunition for political polemics.

          Bloom completely altered the path of my education. He taught me to read books as I would read scripture, that literature is different than allegory, that solitude requires responsibility. He gave me the courage to change majors, and to take literature as seriously as I do living. This is spirituality—the art of living full, and of embracing humanity with confidence. Six years later, I am amazed that his writing had this effect on me, particularly because there is so much other literary criticism out there that I find soul-suckingly anti-human.
          I haven’t given you any examples yet, so I will just end this essay with one of his quotes:
Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. It returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in your friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness. We read…because we cannot know enough people.
(How to Read and Why, 19). 

Other spiritual experiences with literature:
--writing an essay about our Men's Chorus tour to St. George
--reading Jane Eyre with my mom
--transcribing my mission journal into Microsoft Word
--helping students learn how to write at the Writing Center


  1. I love your idea of spirituality being the "art of living fully." Considering the quote you posted about reading being the means of seeking aesthetic or spiritual wisdom, I wondered what you and others thought that aesthetic wisdom implies. Is art the means of communicating messages or the message itself?

  2. Thank you for sharing this, especially the quote. I love how literature can connect us to others and as Bloom says, be "the most healing of pleasures." I'm glad you were able to find this wonderful wisdom. I am also curious to hear what others have to say about Nick's question...I myself still have to think about it.

  3. When I was deciding whether I should switch from Public Relations to English, I had a tough time. Was English a worthwhile major? Is it more than a hobby? What can I do in my life with an English major? What you wrote echoes what finally convinced me to switch. Literature allows a view of all aspects of humanity and requires a development of self rather simply a development of knowledge

  4. I love how you mentioned reading books like scripture. I think in all times this is beneficial. I have noticed that sometimes while reading more racy material I have different feelings. By reading any kinds of literature I can decipher whether or not the material rings truth. I think this is an important skill to have because too many time people will just believe anything they read.