The Comforting Power of Literature

‘…The comforting power of literature is one which need not perhaps have been enlarged upon so fully, but is one which has to do with the most intimate and poignant relations of life.’

Having had to explain my passion for studying English literature many a time, I’ve come to terms with what will most likely be an unenthusiastic response. The statement is generally met with reactions of cynicism, ignorance, ridicule or most pleasantly just genuine confusion. That being said, I’ve taken the time to write about one of my favourite traits of literature, in a manner hopefully more articulate than my usual, flustered response.

I turned to my beloved pool of great writers, academics and general advocates for the love of literature, to see what they had to say.

Carl Sagan once noted ‘a book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.’

Yes.

Arlo Bates too quite nicely sums things up.

‘All that reaches most penetratingly to the roots of being, is recorded, so far as humanity has been able to give to it expression, in art. Of all art, literature is perhaps the most universally intelligible… Literature is the inventory of the heritage of humanity.’

So, literature, as the most universally comprehensible art form, has a unique capability to reach masses in a way that no other artistic field may do so.

This trait, then compliments one other factor. In some part due to having been derived solely from the inner workings of one author — literature naturally lends itself to themes of introspection. We see this, as books tend to provide us with a uniquely magnified insight into emotions or moments within character’s lives and the human experience.

It is by delving into such experiences, that we may find solace in their being shared. As Bates reaffirms, ‘to find sympathy which comes from a knowledge that our inmost emotions are shared, we turn to books.’

So when people ask why I love literature, I guess there’s one answer. Through books we find a connection to others. This connection amazingly transcends history, gender, language, culture, introversion, religion, race, social norms.

As Paulo Coelho once so beautifully and eloquently said,

‘Even if my neighbour doesn’t understand my religion or understand my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, then he’s never too far from me…There is always a chance for reconciliation, a chance that one day he and I will sit around a table together and put an end to our history of clashes. And on this day, he will tell me his story and I will tell him mine.’