In Defense of Literature

It was a beautiful spring day, bright and sunny, and students dotted the grassy knolls with open books in their laps, cramming for their final exams, as I hurried across my alma mater’s campus toward the English hall to watch a friend defend her Master’s thesis. I reached the conference room just in time and took the first empty plush chair inside the door. Her professors, who once were my professors, sat expectantly across the table, dressed up and sipping coffee from paper cups. In front of each of them laid a stack of paper filled with thousands of my friend’s thoughtful words which she wrote and re-wrote over the course of a year.

My friend sat at the head of the table, a stack of her own words in front of her as well. To the side was a fat paperback novel, obviously well-used; scotch tape could be seen holding the binding together. As she explained the premise behind her thesis (which was based on that novel), she lovingly (and most likely unknowingly) stroked the front cover as though it were the cherished family dog. That book was probably her best friend for the past year; they were rarely separated and now it was here to celebrate this milestone with her.

It seemed like just yesterday I was in her seat, uncontrollably stroking my copy of a collection of Shirley Jackson stories, exhiliarated to have accomplished so much and nervous to hear others' opinions of my hard work.

The English hall at my college alma mater.

It may seem useless to spend a whole year dissecting and interpreting every single word in a book or a story. You may ask, what is the point? It’s just one book. It’s just one author.

But it’s more than that. It’s a passion. It’s a passion for the work and for the author, yes, but it’s also a passion for truth—for learning about this world or an older one and prophesying about a future one.

It’s like deciphering a puzzle, only the puzzle you’re deciphering is human nature. The author has encoded everything they’ve learned about life up to now in their work, and it’s your job to figure out what they are trying to say.

It’s a passion for thinking hot-burning thoughts, for seeing things no one has seen before, for telling the whole world about something you discovered.

It’s an adventure. It’s exhilarating. It’s so goddamn fun.

I remember sitting in her seat two years ago, declaring my discoveries in front of God and my professors. I had broken the code. I had uncovered the secrets of Shirley Jackson's writing!

I walked out of that building feeling like I could change the world. I felt like the smartest person who had ever lived...because of one book, one author.

It’s a rare feeling. I’ve struggled with the jobs I’ve had up to now, because even on days when they’re most challenging, I get nowhere near feeling as accomplished as I did that spring day two years ago.

But writing helps. Writing puts me on the other side. I get to take everything I’ve learned about life up to now, put it into words, and post it online for you to decipher and interpret. It’s a different type of excitement to know that you’re out there, reading my words. I wonder how they affect you: if they touch your heart or motivate you to move. I wonder what messages you take away from my encoded words.

I only hope that you find reading my writing to be at least somewhat of an adventure, and hopefully more than somewhat fun, so that you may have a taste of what it is I’m most passionate about and begin to understand.