I am an old book lover. I love the fragile pages that might float away like tissue paper under the savagery of my fingertips. I love the thick yellow paper that smells of industry and its revolution. I love the grainy textured covers with the smooth sunken letters. I love the indentations of each letter side by side to form the title. I love the re-releases with their additional resources and pages of footnotes. I love the elegance, the charm, the outrageous oppression, the fighter, the customs, the wardrobes, the manners, the landscapes of English country sides. Did I say that I am a lover of old books? The physical book doesn’t even have to be old, though that’s a bonus. What I mean is that most of my preferred reading was written before our century.
So I am spreading this gospel with much sympathy.
WHY YOU (WE) SHOULD READ MODERN LITERATURE
Reason #1. Don’t Be Spoiled Milk
The most immediate benefit of reading modern literature is gauging the freshness of our own writing. If you had never smelled fresh milk, how would you recognize the sour? Maybe every writer is, subconsciously, taking in the same methods, aesthetics and values of their time. Each writer huddles over his journal or sits stern in front of his laptop, convinced that he is writing, inventing, cultivating! his own original style. No, no, it just won’t do. Read the new stuff. Some of them will be tomorrow’s classics.
Reason #2. There Are New Things Under the Sun
Some of us have been brought up to believe that everything has already been done, and history holds a history of all men’s histories. True, most actions, motivations, passions, obsessions, guilts, and romances have been played out on the world stage. But tell me, did Sophocles deal with this?
A Text Between Two People
Me: Hey, need to talk to you. Give me a call later, please.
Other person: Hey you.
Me: Hey, there. How’s it going?
Other person: It’s pretty good I guess.
Me: Are you able to give me a call or no?
Other person: (Insert long silence of a few hours)
Me: Okay then.
Hmm, how might our protagonist handle this?
We look to literature, after all, not only to entertain, but to educate us on the nature of man, the nature of the beast, the nature of the world, or all of the above. Would we stop collecting wisdom? Would we take the ancients only, rendering useless the lessons and stories of our day? When we dismiss modern literature, aren’t we dismissing ourselves?
Reason #3. Mirrored Words
We’ve all heard of mirrored images, but I’m speaking here of mirrored words. We have all been affected by a passage, sentence or word that mirrored our own feelings to perfection. Writers have been coming up with thousands of new ways to say everything. Who knows how many beautiful, moving, perfect words are out there waiting for you today. Know the jewels of your era. Love them while they are alive. For once!
Reason #4. The Grandchildren, or, Were You Even Relevant?
When your grandchild asks how you, a reader, were affected by the writing of so and so when it was published, you’ll have some idea who the hell she’s even talking about. You can’t keep saying, “I read Emily Dickinson” forever and ever. When they ask you how you reacted to The Book Thief, you damned sure better have an answer, and a good one. You’d better go over to your bookshelf and pull down your old underlined and bookmarked copy. It better look used.
Reason #6. Variety Is the Spice of Life
Just like with my books, I may need a separate room for my shoes. I won’t bore you here with the delicious details for why I love shoes and their transformative power, or the way they remind me of the good in the world, or their stubbornness and eagerness to please. My point is this: variety keeps us excited. It creates vibrations in the bloodstream. It makes our eyes dilate. Variety is the dessert of life. You may not know it, but exposure to sameness day in and day out leads to mental lethargy. To mental moldiness. You want your brain to smell of swamp water?
Reason #7. You Won’t Bore Your Guests
Besides this, when your friends come to your house and browse your bookshelves, they’d like to have the reassurance that they haven’t been visiting the home of a long dead ghost who doesn’t realize he’s dead. Do your bookshelves reassure others that you’ve been alive at some point during this century, or the last? Is there something for everyone to admire? Believe it or not, most people don’t like pulling an old book from a shelf and caressing their chest with its dusty pages. Weirdos.
I’m not suggesting that you shop for books with others in mind, but that you are keeping an open mind to what’s making waves in the literary world. As for me, I read the New York Times Book Review. The reviews themselves are their own form of literature. They are in-depth and varied in scope, they help me to narrow down my choices as time is precious, and sometimes they just give me a taste of the style, themes and voices of my time. Gotta start somewhere.