The Reading Manifesto

Geoffrey Chaucer cited Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans in his “Nun’s Priest Tale”. Paul wrote: Whatever is written before time is for teaching, so every person through patience and comfort of the holy scriptures might have hope”.

Having no experience with Chaucer beyond the six hours of English Literature required for graduation, I never knew that I’d venture back to “Chaunticleer” to cement my vocation.

When I retired for rest and reflection over the arduous almost three month break between semesters, a powerful voice whispered to me. It said: Keep reading and writing! Do it even though the reaction will be scathing, acerbic, virulent, and altogether aspersed.

My literary road began with fear and tumult because I was strong enough to know I should read, but weak enough to surrender to the scorn I heard. I reflect most days on the most prominent question my professor posed when I began Advanced Writing. In English 401, he said: “What have you read?”

This one question established for our naive little bunch, the idea that precise, groundbreaking writing cannot happen without connecting manifold pieces of literature.

The bible is the patient hope of believing Christians. And the body of literature is the hope and comfort of writers, poets, speakers, and playwrights.

Studying English amalgamates my religious faith, my empirical passion, and my human development.

One learns more through interaction with written word than through six hours of stylized television. Words cannot rely on the ornamentation television gets. People decide what written word means to them. And if those words are too dense, too big, or too aware, people can and do ignore them.

This expresses why it’s no longer fashionable to read in many circles.

We live in information overload with no real time to connect someone else’s words to what we believe. We would rather get the opinion from someone else.

Look at the abundance of rhetoric that follows even these most meaningless clauses and phrases.

We don’t reflect on music much anymore. The front-loading of rhythm and melody, have contaminated words. There is far less conversation about why things are meaningful. Essentially, because of our hatred of reading, we fail at testing things. We don’t look much deeper.

The apostle Paul understood along with Chaucer that the greatest stories are designed for reflection, teaching, connection and for the building of compassion and understanding.

There are times when context distorts our view, events in which misinterpretation only feeds our ignorance.

Making time to read undisturbed is an invitation to challenge our minds to see something without the riot of another person’s prediction.

How do we know if the other person’s view can light our path, if we haven’t bothered to decide our own reason?

It’s easy to yell that I think it means this… and for the hearer to agree, especially when the hearer is afraid of disclosing how engaged he or she is.

I study English, but I don’t do it always from a position of pride. I do it to enlarge my understanding of just how complex the world and its people truly are.

People aren’t computers. We the people, are fallible. The stories teach me so.

Reading requires a patience that has been exacerbated by every search engine’s algorithm. If Google, Yahoo, and Bing can anticipate what you need, there is no desire to find out whether those pieces of data are actually “what you need”.

My present hope is that people—black, white, brown, rich, poor, scared, brave or otherwise—notice how stories determine actions and ideas. I hope we understand how a deceptive story reinforced over time destroys potential generations.

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