Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One Simple Resolution For An Impactful Year

I'm willing to bet that we're all pretty nearly in the same position: looking at the blank calendar pages of 2017, pens poised to mark them up with fresh hope and resolutions.

Before we get too far along though, may I offer one resolution that we can all actually fulfill? It's simple as it is impactful, and I promise that when January of 2018 rolls around you'll be glad you added it in there with your "healthier choices" and "more exercise."


The one resolution for an impactful year is simply to read.

I promise this doesn't come from my believing the view of noses stuck in books more pleasant than that of noses pasted to screens.

I'm sure we all understand that reading is important to some degree or another, somewhere up there with "eat your broccoli and spinach," I suppose. Good gracious, we have all the reason and evidence in the world to show that children should be doing it (or we to them, as the case may be). But in these last couple of years some books have landed in my stack that broke open the idea of why it's vital to keep it up in adulthood. Some of it was the bullet points we all see and some of it was completely new and jaw dropping to me, but all of it was fascinating. I'm not an authority on the subject but just to light a fire beneath us all, here are just a few reasons I propose you make 2017 a year of literature.

1) There is no free society without literature

This was, by far, the most jaw dropping revelation to me. We've all been raised to hallow the "American Dream." It's the unique opportunity at life that our country offers - to rise above circumstances and expand the borders of our lives, so to speak.

A huge part of that has to do with expanding our vocabulary.

Northrop Frye virtually shouted in print that you can't cultivate speech beyond a certain point if you have nothing to say, and what you have to say is your vision of society:
There's something in all of us that wants to drift toward a mob, where we can all say the same thing without having to think about it, because everybody is all alike except the people we can hate or persecute. Every time we use words, we're either fighting against this tendency or giving into it. When we fight against it, we're taking the side of a genuine... human civilization.

With no communication, there is no freedom of speech or freedom of thought. Think about it. What are thoughts without words? When words are restricted or disappear into oblivion, our thoughts do the same (Thank you, Madeleine L'engle for pointing this out so casually). 1984 much?

"Men do to not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say."

No thanks, Lewis, I'd rather that not be our fate.

2) Literature helps to better us

I think we generally see literature as something that betters us educationally, maybe more the in direction of everything I said above. Now that's all true and good of course, but not really what I have in mind. I'll let Sarah (formerly) Clarkson tell you what I mean:

No one has the ability to just 'be good.' But when you have an imagination crammed with secret gardens and kindred spirits, when you've wandered Narnia with a beautiful Lion, or traveled with Miss Rumphius to the most exotic places on earth, or spent an afternoon 'listening to all the things you can't hear' (as Pooh would say) in the Hundred-Acre Wood, you have a deep sense of goodness. To be grounded in such beauty is to know what it means to love, what is right, and then to be willing to stand by it.
Now I'm not saying that you absolutely must read the adventures of Pooh Bear to better yourself (though I'd argue that it would better you if you did), you can insert a good many book themes in those few poetic lines that Sarah offered. What I am saying is this:

Words build worlds. Worlds where we can be inspired to say, "hey I can do better, I can try to reach higher!" Then set down our paper worlds, and face reality with the courage and determination of a true hero or heroine.

Maybe what Chesterton said will best illustrate this: "Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

Which leads to my last point . . .

3) Literature reminds us that hope is a verb

I think this last election cycle has been a good reminder of this too.

While I know most of us are people of pretty simple means, that doesn't change the fact that we are people with the capacity for action, for trying, for hoping. You see what I'm saying? We simply don't have the right to look at the world as it is and say "I sure hope things change" without lifting a finger toward said change.

I hope Sarah doesn't mind my using her inspiring words here one last time, I just can't see fit to say it better:

"Hope is not a passive, happy feeling of comfort. True hope. . . is a muscled, active energy that sets to work to bring about the beauty it has glimpsed."

So whether you read one book, ten books, one hundred books, download a bunch of audio books, it doesn't matter. But here's to making 2017 a year that we lose ourselves (in one capacity or another) to the world of literature.