Writing is such a major part of my life that I rarely ask myself why I do it. I write because it’s as necessary to me as eating or sleeping. But I also write for other reasons. The very act of writing forces me to examine what I’m thinking about people and events, and it causes me to read with greater attention to language’s many nuances, from the way metaphor expands our vision and creates relationships between unlike things to the connotations certain words and phrases have. In other words, it causes me to more closely pay attention to the written word.
After suffering through four years with a president who can’t seem to create a coherent sentence or thought, promoting literacy seems more important than ever. The ability to read and write is essential to a healthy democratic society. If we can’t research the various problems we face today, looking at them from multiple angles with the help of dedicated investigative journalists, then we are living in a vacuum, a non-life. We also are easily fooled by slogans and superficial thinking—fake news. No wonder so many Americans believe that Biden stole the election. They’ve been conditioned by Trump to settle for untruths.
When I taught freshmen composition, during the first class, I said that Rhetoric would be the most important class they took that semester. Most didn’t believe me. I always asked how many would have signed up for the class if it weren’t a requirement. Sometimes one or two held up their hand. Sometimes no one did. But by the end of the semester, nearly all agreed that their critical thinking skills had deepened. They also were more adept at reading for nuance—for subtext. For discerning what was being conveyed between the lines. Equally important was their perception that they could express themselves more clearly, thereby actually communicating. We can’t convey our thoughts and feelings if we’re unable to write coherent sentences!
Every day I’m grateful for those writers who devote their lives to this craft. Reading allows me to enter others’ reality and simultaneously enlarge my own. I recently reviewed Per Petterson’s novel I Refuse. While reading the book, I felt what it was like to be a working-class Norwegian man. I inhabited his psyche and experienced the bareness of his words. He didn’t say much, but what he did say resonated, having an impact on others and on me.
I feel privileged to be part of this endeavor to create other worlds from my experiences and my imagination, and I appreciate those who join me on this journey. Reading, deeply and widely—not just twitter posts or Facebook messages—expands our knowledge of the universe and of ourselves.