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by Danica Stojanovic

Do You Believe in Reading?

So, why do you study literature, it's not real is it? It has no practical value?

Should I roll my eyes? Try to argue how real literature actually is? #CryFor5Minutes?

In a world of practicality and marketable job skills, telling people you can read three books in a week and extensively argue about them is as appealing as poking an angry rhino in the eye with a flaming candle. After all, changing one's views, especially well after their formative years, is just as inconceivable as the notion of them changing yours. Nonetheless, as a literature aficionado, I do see it fit to raise a few points regarding the most wondrous world of books.

Once upon a time, I visited a place I would not have dreamt of going to, in high hopes of learning, expanding horizons and simply experiencing something entirely new. Upon seeing a devastating display of racism, discrimination and nationalism, my first urge, or at least the close second right after making wild love to the boarding pass on my phone, was to crawl back home and binge-watch six seasons of My Little Pony. It should be noted, that I only ever saw a few episodes of MLP when my roommate asked (possibly forced) me to watch them with her, back in the good old days of discovering a student burger with extra fries and Coca-Cola – all for mere two euros, who could say no? But, heartily disillusioned and disappointed, I sought refuge in an imaginary world. Why My Little Pony of all things? Simply because there was a big sale on the novelization of the cartoon in the duty-free section of the airport. And that, my fellow-GrIStuFers, was precisely what I needed – a light-hearted, certainly misleading and deceptively optimistic book series to erase my troubles, at least for the time being.

Yes, fiction is exactly that – fiction. It's not real in the most common sense of the world, bound to empirically tangible and verifiable reality. However, that does not make it any less impactful in the real world. Firstly, reading is the most coveted stress-reliever, and before you throw sports, walking in nature, yoga, kick-boxing and listening to music at me, allow me to ask you: where does the mind go during all of these? I am certain many of us think of our happy places during heavy exercise or imagine our summer bodies or simply focus on future health benefits. These are not real yet, thus fictional thinking takes over. Walking in nature, swimming or listening to music – I am sure you're listening to some words, be they the ones of your mind or some musically-inclined mastermind of choice. While arguably centering in nature, even while doing yoga, you are entering a fictional realm in which you are the pivotal and focal point of your own universe, at least for a brief moment detached from the indiscriminate reality. So, why not fiction in books? It has been shown time and again, that mere thirty minutes of reading reduce blood pressure and alleviate stress.

On a more serious note, is IQ a fixed figure? Some would argue that what you were bestowed upon in the complex game of chance your fate played around your birth was what you had to live with. Cruel, but whoever had heard of a benevolent game of Russian roulette with fate, destiny, universe or god? Still, reading can help you increase intelligence. Just by expanding your vocabulary you are already making strides in increasing verbal competences, but even more so, you are discovering new ideas. How many of us would have thought of a magically concealed castle teeming with budding witches and wizards? Or an alien whose sole mission in life is to insult every being in the galaxy “individually, personally, one by one, you complete kneebiter!” Frankly, I don't think many of us would have looked at the problematics of there not being any female wizards – witches are a different concept, and it was high time someone addressed the issue. Literature teaches you to think laterally, explore the world you know from a different perspective, stretching not only your horizons but those tiny grey cells as well. Not only does it stretch them, it teaches them to dance a number of choreographies beyond expectations, which is what one ought to do, should they wish for increased intellectual inclinations. Furthermore, reading requires mental discipline, determination and diligence – far greater cognitive efforts than reposting soundbites and hackneyed twitter-worthy quotes, whose originators would gladly denounce them should they ever be offered the misfortune of seeing their brainchildren used and abused online. After all, if you judge a quote by its ability to climb an Instagram popularity ladder, you know the rest, it will spend its short-lived internet fame collecting mindless likes. What do you mean that's not the right quote? Well, you know what I mean anyway, but let me tell you, if I hadn't read so many critically humorous novels, I would not have come up with it either. Reading rewires your brain, teaching you empathy, thus increasing yet another important quotidian – emotional intelligence, and I do believe I am right when I say this is what the world needs right now. We, as participants and organisers of this conference know that black lives matter, that no lives matter until black lives matter and that we uphold steadfastly the ideals of humanism. And yet. If it hadn't been for fiction by Toni Morrison, Pearl S. Buck, Fredrick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and countless others, would the world ever have gained insight into those very same lives? The privileged are the ones who had hushed it up for too long, but no privilege can hush up a book, for the right book will always find its way to the right audience. And now it is up to us to write a book of reality, to employ our faculties, intelligence and empathy to bring about change.

Which brings me to just about my last point – reading boosts your critical faculties and gives impetus to imagination. Just think about all the universes you could create in your mind by being inspired by a piece you've read. At first it starts with fanfiction – admit it, you've dreamt up scenarios for your favourite characters or imagined different endings to unsavoury books, series or films. It's enough to daydream of fictional worlds before you realise how apt you can be, and this potential is only increased if you keep loading your already read and to-read lists. You can make the whole world smile with a heartfelt story of your own making, jerk a few tears from hardest of hearts and stir social change with a few select words – and they will all come from the sphere of fiction first. Honestly, you could even come up with better arguments against reading than it not being real. So, read, read as much as you can, educate yourself and feel free to educate others. No practical value for literature? I beg to differ! The world would be a dark and despondent place indeed if it weren't for literature. So go on, dear GrIStuFers, read fiction, utopian or dystopian, realist or fantasy-laden and use all that you've read to imagine the better world and then make it real! See you there, in, hopefully, a happier ever after!

Comments

Me // Mon, 8th June 2020, 21:59 GMT+0200
"10/10 Will start reading right now ;)
No seriously, I will remember this for whenever someone tries to explain that engineering and medicin are the only studies the world could benefit from :o"
Ramia // Thu, 11th June 2020, 14:27 GMT+0200
"The bookworm in me is loving this! "