The Importance of Being Literate  

We live in a world of hashtags and texting abbreviations; gleeful laughter has been replaced by “LOL”,  “carpe diem” has been killed by “YOLO”, words are being replaced by numbers 4 heaven’s sake! (That was painful, but consider my point made.) It seems I cannot go through one day without being confronted by enough grammatical atrocities to make entire graveyards of authors flip in their coffins. Just yesterday, for instance, I was looking for some insight on symbolism in Dracula and nearly fell out of my chair when I came across this question on Yahoo:

Screenshot_2014-08-29-20-41-46-1

But all of this conventional chaos is really just mildly annoying in the grand scheme of things; what makes me sad is that the people who are guilty of these word crimes have the opportunity to read and write, to explore the shelves of libraries or buy books at the store, to go to school and learn the fundamentals of language. What makes me sad is that these people, for the most part, have the opportunity to sharpen their literacy skills into tools for effective communication, but do not, simply to save a few text characters.

Many people do not have this opportunity.

32 million American adults, in fact. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/illiteracy-rate_n_3880355.html)

Why? Poverty, broken homes, insecure social situation, etc. Do Something, an organization that seeks to involve teenagers in reaching out to other teens in need, has a list of the top eleven causes of illiteracy in America, which I highly recommend looking into:

https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-literacy-america   logo

But why should we care? Not being a bookworm never hurt anybody, right? WRONG. So wrong that I broke my commitment to proper conventions and used all caps. Studies show that illiteracy is associated with crime, substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, and poverty. Again, the link above provides excellent information on the effects of illiteracy.

There is another reason to care about promoting literacy, a more personal reason that I fear some may “LOL” at scornfully. It is that literacy is freedom: freedom from ignorance, freedom from helplessness. If you doubt me, just think for a moment of every great epoch in the history of humanity: words were there to propel mankind forward. John Locke’s philosophical writings changed the way we view government, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” marked a turning point in the Civil War, Shakespeare set the precedent for entertainment through the centuries, Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” sparked the Protestant Reformation, Upton Sinclair saved society from impure food, C.S. Lewis revolutionized fantasy. From the first clay cuneiform to the Egyptian hieroglyphics to the Torah Scrolls to The Federalist Papers to Harry Potter. Words were- and are- there, giving flight to our imaginations, strengthening our beliefs, and preserving our ideas. If this doesn’t convince you of the necessity of literacy, perhaps this quote will:

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Frederick Douglassb_359ae7827c956d90a4946a8711c13635

By the way, the author of that quote? An African American slave who learned to read and not only escaped slavery, but went on to become one of the most influential authors and abolitionists in American history.

If my words have resounded with you as I hope that they have, I encourage you to take action to promote literacy, whether by volunteering as a tutor, donating to a charity such as Do Something, or even just lending a book to someone in need. The DoSomething.org site has further tips for getting involved in the fight against illiteracy, as well as Grammarly.com at the following link:  http://www.grammarly.com/blog/2014/promote-literacy-with-grammarly/

Return to the Garden

 

 

images (1)

What qualifies a book as a classic? This is the question my classmates and I were faced with in English today and I am probably way more emotionally invested in this subject than I should be, but my answer to this question has taken years to discover! And, after all, isn’t most literature in some way based on a quest for self-knowledge? Wouldn’t such a quest evoke passion in real life?

Anyway, I digress.

Basically, my answer to this question is that literature is not made; it grows and develops as humanity does. That is what makes books such as Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, Vanity Fair, and Dracula classics. These enduring masterpieces do not rise to fame and fade away like many of those novels on the current New York Times Bestseller list because they are more than just entertainment; they are reflections of humanity, despite their dramatic plots or fanciful characters. They remain stocked on bookstore and library shelves while other tales come and go and are read and forgotten by fickle readers. Why do they endure? Because their themes remain applicable to human life, their conflicts observable in the modern world, and their characters relatable in spite of their age differences with current readers.

twilight-meme-this-literature

That was my answer, but I had to wonder, do all classics have to be deep, wordy, and- let’s face it- rather dull? Or could some pieces of literary genius be- dare I wonder?- simple? Innocent? Entertaining even?

C.S. Lewis says yes.

Actually, what he really says is, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally- and often far more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Wait. He’s talking about children’s books, not the brick-like jungles of symbols and allusions that we must machete our way through in our English courses, but children’s books! Suddenly a whole new world is opened to readers and we no longer have to feel like we cannot benefit from the wisdom of literature simply because we do not care for ten-syllable words and tragic endings! The wardrobe has been opened again to all readers and we can return to the “Narnias” and “Secret Gardens” we left behind.

It seems that often people ignore the relevancy of children’s books to their adult lives, but perhaps it would do us good to return to their simple wisdom and beauty. It is likely- no, it is definite- that upon rereading a children’s book that you read as a child, you will find meaning where once you saw only a story. For instance, I reread The Secret Garden to give my brain a vacation, but where I expected to find the familiar story I read as a young girl, I found a tale of friendship, determination, overcoming, forgiveness, and even redemption. These were certainly not themes that I detected as a beginning reader, but upon revisiting this childhood garden, I discovered that morals and symbols had bloomed like flowers since my first visit.

downloadMy English teachers always insisted that I bring my arguments full-circle (probably just as well, since I do tend to ramble), so to conclude, classic literature endures because it continues to be relevant and applicable, not, as a classmate of mine said- because the authors are long-winded and professors like to look smart by explaining vocabulary. If my answer is correct and C.S. Lewis is to be believed (which he should be, seeing as he had some experience with literature himself…you know, being an author and all that…) , many children’s books fall into this category; Charlotte’s Web may sit beside Pride and Prejudice, Redwall can have adventures with The Lord of the Rings, Nancy Drew can share secrets with Sherlock Holmes.

 

So you see, children’s books are completely equal to, and perhaps above, many “adult” classics in their vast stores of wisdom and potential for application. They are not to be looked down upon for the youth of their intended audience, but may even set examples for what true literature ought to be.

 

Literary Madness: A Dangerous Disease Affecting Readers Everywhere

It’s over. It is finished. No, wait… one more annotation. Now. Now it is finished. But it isn’t! Arghhh!!!
I know it is considered bad writing to use numerous exclamation marks, but I suffer from a fever that only excessive use of them can cure! (See, that sentence did not even need one, but my current state of excitement made me put it there despite the protests of my inner editor! Ahh! Another! And another!)

Okay… I am calm again. I suppose I should explain the cause of my outburst, but to do that, I will have to diagnose and define an illness particular to bookworms like myself: Literary Madness.

This disease features symptoms such as screaming in shock, questioning the meaning of humanity and existence in general, spontaneous bouts of crying, irrational anger towards fictional characters, and the inability to stop annotating or quoting. Attacks of Literary Madness are triggered by in-depth reading and analyzing of any piece of writing that leads to an unnaturally high level of emotion and thought. These attacks come generally without warning and can last for as little as three seconds or as long as weeks. There is, as of yet, no definite cure, for like writer’s block and writer’s despair, Literary Madness is brushed aside as a pseudo-disease by medical professionals. (However, my elevated heart rate and pounding headache indicate that it is more serious than they believe! <- snap, there’s another exclamation mark…deep breaths, Ryanne…) However, for any unfortunate reader who falls victim to an attack of L.M., it has been found that symptoms may be eased by taking a solitary walk, lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling fan, watching paranormal documentaries on Netflix (or British dramas, if those are not your cup of tea), and perusing satirical memes on Pinterest.

Okay, now that we’ve established what Literary Madness is, I believe that it is obvious that I am suffering from a severe case of it. Granted, my entire life seems to be one continuous attack of L.M., but right now it has peaked and I am displaying nearly every symptom. (I have not yet screamed aloud, mostly because my family has company…) What has brought on this attack? The answer is one word, one book, and a multitude of implications, thoughts, questions, and emotions: Frankenstein.

I realize that I called this book an “Intellectual” in my last post, and while my label remains unchanged, I have found a morbid pleasure in rereading it, unveiling allusions I previously missed, tackling questions I had scribbled in its margins, and wondering about its connections to the author, to me, to humanity. Do you see now why my mind was in such a whirl? I am by no means calling Frankenstein the epitome of literary greatness, but it raised so many questions about what it means to be human, what defines good and evil, and what mankind’s position in the universe is, how can I help my mind from dancing and pondering every possible implication of its words? How can I help using exclamation points?!?!

If you’ve survived my rant to this point, I offer my sincerest thanks. Not many people can handle an attack of Literary Madness themselves, let alone that of another person. If you’ve continued reading to this point, I offer my sincerest apologies, for you too probably are afflicted with this disease. If you don’t believe me, try reading Frankenstein; I can guarantee you will, in one way or another, have your first attack of Literary Madness.