Reading literature, for me, is about gaining more insight into myself, other people's minds and experiences and the world...
I think back to when I was little and certain characters, helped along by my imagination, came to life and kept me company. I grew up, if not a lonely child, then at least a somewhat isolated one. Early on I realized that Laura and Mary from Little House on the Prairie could keep me company. I could be one of the sisters in the room that the author just forgot to mention. I dressed up like Laura for Halloween and I pretended to be a pioneer. I wanted to be these characters. Of course there were countless other books of childhood, but for the most part the characters were who I wanted to be.
As I got older, I was intrigued by getting out of my comfort zone. I found colorful characters almost ridiculously unlike myself. To imagine the possibilities of all of the imagined ways to live a life, all of the imagined ways these lives can intertwine and impact each other. That was compelling. I read all of John Irving's books, loved science fiction and fantasy, and enjoyed some of Hemingway, to name a few.
At some point beyond these early years, I became fascinated not just by the characters in the book but by the minds of the authors and the worlds in which they lived that are reflected in their imaginings they share with us. Reading gives me a window, however hazy, into another person's mind. I can get a feel for the time and place in which they live or have lived. Jane Austen lived quite awhile ago, but I feel like I know her a bit after having read characters of hers and realizing that these characters still seem to be among us in their modern trappings. Authors from other places, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, bring the world to me from where they are. I can see for this moment where they live and learn a bit about their interpretation of the world.
And now, I read for all of these reasons: to know myself, to know others, and to know the world.
WHY I READ WHAT I READ
I am a writer of books myself. But my books are about abstract mathematics, and although the theories developed in them are applicable to physics, engineering, and other sciences, they mostly live in formal and complex imaginary environment including a lot of analysis depending on the geometry of infinite dimensional spaces.
In this context, for the sake of balance, my reading needs focus not on works of pure fiction but on books that stay closer to the ground and cover history and biography, or both. This is the case of the book I am reading this summer. The volume "Kathmandu", written by Thomas Bell, a reporter for the British daily The Telegraph, was presented to me in May by my daughter, Lauren, after her return from a semester of anthropological study in Himalayan Valleys. Thomas arrived in Kathmandu almost two decades ago as a young twenty-something, but fell in love with the culture and history of the Valley (and also a Nepali woman whom he married:-) and settled permanently there.
His writing is very illuminating as he interweaves his personal experiences, and the daily contacts with local Nepali and a lot of British and American expatriates, with a subtle and incisive analysis of what's happening now in Nepal in the context of its history. It is obvious that Thomas spent a lot of time studying it in the Kathmandu archives, ancient Buddhist temples, and museums, and reading old but often incomplete accounts of more than 1000 years of the events in Kathmandu Valley. And the result is very informative for me as it exposes the convoluted interplay between religion, politics, money, and personal psychology, as well as the usual power plays at different levels, from the competition for space between poor neighbors, or at cremation river bank sites, all the way to global powers vying for influence over the place strategically located between India and China. Are there any lessons from there for our lives in Shaker Heights, at our university, or more generally, in the world? Not literally, but the concepts developed in the book are firmly anchored in the real world, they cannot be ignored, and their relevance to our life paths cannot be denied. I find Thomas' lessons on how "now" is interlaced with " then" enriching and educating.
Wojbor A. Woyczynksi is a profesor of mathematics. He specializes in:
Probability theory, Levy stochastic processes, random fields and their statistics
Nonlinear, stochastic and fractional evolution equations
Harmonic and functional analysis
Random graphs, statistical physics and hydrodynamics
Applications to chemistry, physics, operations research, financial mathematics, medicine, biology, oceanography and atmospheric physics
How has reading changed you?
Thank you. Thank you to:
Laura Ingalls Wilder for bringing me into another world of prairie pioneers living through winters that tested families and made them strong.
The Enoch Pratt Children's library in Baltimore and its librarians from the 1950's and 1960's for finding wonderful books for me to read.
Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley for helping me through grief and loss.
Kierkegaard's story of Jacob and Isaac for helping me understand the enormity of what God was asking Abraham to do: sacrifice his own son.
Elena Ferrante's book My Brilliant Friend for helping me to understand a complex friendship and the power of one not present to influence one.
Julia Alvarez for her quiet book Time of the Butterflies on the murder of 3 sisters by the dictator Trujillo told in their voices and later by the surviving 4th sister.
Kent Haruf for his beautiful book Our Souls at Night where an elderly widow and widower start to spend the night together talking and finding a bond.
For Elsa Morante's History telling of war torn Italy told through the eyes of a widow trying to survive with a child.
For the book Pippi Longstocking for letting young girls know that they could do anything if they did not just follow the rules.
For Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters for writing their books.
For Roland Merullo's Talk Funny Girl and its tale of how a contractor's hiring of a teenage girl from an abuse filled home allowed her to escape through work and to thrive and to believe in herself.
For Louisa May Alcott and her strong character Jo in Little Women.
For friends who recommended these books.
For Charlie Pratt and Christopher Brookfield for making me a better reader.
For Margaret Kostritsky who fostered a great love of books and made reading a joy.
For Jenni Acosta for sending me The Last Painting of Sara Vos.
Juliet P. Kostritsky is a law professor.
Why do I read? Reading is a legacy that can open the borders of one’s own lived experience. Reading helps us feel and think and witness outside of our selves. One returns to the self, always, but in reading, one has the opportunity to be always returning differently—to be synthesizing otherness with sameness in an ongoing effort to be responsive to the world. I like to read the same books repeatedly through the course of my life. It is never the same experience. Reading catches us in the progress of our life and tells us we do and don’t know.
Sarah Gridley is a poet and literature professor.
Sarah Gridley is the author of three collections of poetry: Weather Eye Open and Green is the Orator, both from the University of California Press, and most recently, Loom, winner of the Omnidawn Open Poetry prize.
You can find some of her work online at the Academy of America poets here.
Nelson Graves is the founder of News-Decoder.
News-Decoder is part of a French not-for-profit (association loi de 1901) called Nouvelles-Découvertes whose mission is to inform young people around the world about international relations “with tolerance, objectivity and broad vision.”
Nelson was born in Buffalo, New York, and has traveled the world as a foreign correspondent and educator. News-Decoder is an effort to promote global understanding and to empower the millennial generation to find solutions to the world’s most intractable problems.
You can find his thoughts on literature in a video testimony he offered here, or on the video page.
I had an opportunity my first semester in college to take a 6 credit English class. Ethnic Literature. We read Richard Wright's Native Son. We could chose among several themes for our paper; I wrote about how Wright uses the metaphor of "seeing." How the white world saw Bigger. How he saw himself. Overt or unconscious. Sometimes, ironic.
I grew up in a upper middle class suburb in NJ; many of our dads commuted into New York City. There wasn't a lot of diversity in my high school or my liberal arts college in small town Ohio.
I attended a YMCA summer camp in the Adirondacks.. My first kiss was from Kirby. He called a few times when we got back from camp; my mom suspected he was black. And she told me she never would send me to that college in Vermont where my cousin met the black man that she would marry. I was nervous, embarrassed and silent.
In that same freshman English class, we had to write about a time we felt like we were excluded. I wrote about some moments - at once alienating and amusing - as a high school exchange student in Chile. It was the closest I could come to relating to themes in the books we read, required for that first semester college class, by latinos, european immigrants, native americans, and blacks.
One of my classmates, who would become a good friend, was also going to be a Spanish major. And we debated bilingual education. I was against it; she argued passionately for it. I loved this class.
At the time, Native Son was a gripping read. I glanced over the book before I wrote this. It seems too patent, cookie-cutter, too simplistic. But, at the time, there was something true to me about this book, I embraced it. When the English professor, asked if she could keep my paper (the days of typewriters), as a reference for future classes, I was proud. In that class, I'd been open to a different way of seeing things, and there, it was noted, appreciated.
Just yesterday, I dog-eared a page in Elena Ferrante's third volume about a life-long friendship between two girls in a hard-knock neighborhood in Naples, Italy. "...every choice has its history, so many of our moments are shoved into a corner, waiting for an outlet, and in the end the outlet arrives."
I was home last weekend. They picked me up in the train station, my mom and I talked about the RNC in Cleveland. I love her. We managed, happily, to avoid politics the rest of the weekend. My sister and I could, thank goodness, compare notes and shake our heads together.
These days I get to witness, sometimes help, international students navigate their lives in the US - they have fun, they struggle, and for a few, its life changing. What they see, what they help me see, what they now see differently. Richard Wright's book, Native Son, was a marker on my life's path.
Liz Woyczynksi coordinates an international law studies program. They both work at Case Western Reserve University.
What does literature mean to me?
Literature is a vehicle that
Brad Gellert is an architect.
MERCI À TOUS NOS MECENES