Is literature a good time investment? Or more specifically, is slow, thoughtful reading of quality literature a good time investment?
It depends on what you aspire to. Literature will unlikely have any significant impact on your street intelligence or the running of your business. It will not enhance your abilities in most concrete endeavors. It will not directly reinforce your emotional intelligence. It will unlikely help you attain your measure of success.
Much of what we seek is attained by no better effective means than by action, trial and error. If anything, literature takes time and energy away from other goals. But it’s quiet more complicated, I’m afraid.
Literature draws time and energy, yes, but it also impacts your language, imagination and (consequently) your thinking. Quality reading imparts profound secondary effects on the structure of your thoughts, which, in turn, yields substantial compound benefits on much of your other pursuit.
The nature of your thoughts and imagination plays as crucial of a role in how you internally feel as the food you eat on a constant basis. You are what you eat, and you are what (or rather how) you think.
Granted, many other factors influence our thoughts. These include personal experiences, emotional intelligence, meditation, philosophy, the people around us, and other convoluted factors that we may not understand (and probably don’t).
Yet literature, and not any but quality literature (more on that later), plays a colossal role in what transpires upstairs.
I mentioned the impact of this and that on how we feel internally. This too bears certain complication. Regretfully, we don’t optimally gauge the quality of our thinking and performance. Not in the ideal empirical sense. In simpler terms, we know when we generally feel good, we tend to recognize when a case of depression strikes, and we’re capable of rough comparisons between now and some other discreet point in time.
Further, the conception of good or better also suffer impreciseness. Unless you meticulously document (journal) aspects of your life, and pay particular care with the remarkable highs and lows, you may not even recall the peaks.
Imagine your mindset as a continuous gradient over time. We generally recall the recent trend. Going further back, we may recall some emotional highlights of our experiences. We might better recall the lows (a recognized psychological bias to emphasize the negative over the positive), although this can vary with age and depends on the person. But it’s all very approximate and doesn’t provide much measurement to the quality of our thoughts over time. We don’t have the best gauge of how much better (or worse) they could become, and certainly not for the subtleties.
Over time I’ve inquired of people of varied health habits in terms of how they feel, and many generally claim to feel good. Or great even. I’ve also felt good and great most of the time. And at this moment I feel somewhere along that range.
And yet there’s such greater dimensionality in measuring our thinking that these basic sensors fail to accurately convey. Only once we start to stimulate our thought from new angles do we begin to detect new patterns that before, in spite of feeling good and great, we hadn’t even conceived of.
You might classify the above as pure intelligence, which, as they say, doesn’t correlate with happiness on a broad level. I don’t necessarily contest that. What I do, however, attest to, is that the peculiarity and dimensionality of your thoughts will have tremendous impact on your interaction with the world, the opportunities you expose yourself to, your confidence and your overall outlook, all of which stem beyond mere happiness.
The above is difficult to measure based on simply the goodness and greatness of our well-being. We don’t conceive of what new pathways of thinking we can attain until we reach that point. Only having reached it do we recognize the new roads and possibilities.
Some resort to recreational drugs to expand the mindset. That’s a matter of preference. I resort to literature. The latter I argue more economical, more sustainable, and bearing less secondary/tertiary consequences.
And while I can’t measure the additional heights I could reach, I certainly have a rough gauge to the extent literature has thus far impacted my mind. The dimensions are several:
- Descriptive language
- Literary elements (metaphors, symbolism, rhetoric, etc)
Academic blabber of literary elements in high school never much inspired me. It’s something I had to experience for myself to fully appreciate. And I can first hand tell you how fantastic it feels to be able to appeal to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of metaphors out there in the world to supplement daily conversation. In general, being able to detect patterns between entirely unrelated concepts, establish those connections, and bring them to life, molds you into a far more exploratory thinker. It supplements your humor even. In fact, all the above dimensions reinforce each other. It feels phenomenal to communicate intricately, not limited by approximate language, but being able to express your thoughts vividly, with keen precision.
However, the above doesn’t render you a quality communicator. That’s something trainable separately. I continuously work on improving that element.
Descriptive language doesn’t always have a place in communication. Your humor may remain misunderstood, and your choice of language unappreciated. These are factors I face a time too often.
However, the question of what transpires in your thoughts, how you feel about yourself, and how you relate to the world, is heavily a function of what (and how often) you read.
One of the most recurring compliments I’ve been granted concerns my intelligence. So often has this occurred that I hardly feel the sense of appreciation. We begin to take such things for granted. This doesn’t even feel modest to write about. But I need to make the following point.
First, this intelligence factor is very broadly expressed, usually as a consequence of conversations I hold with people. Yes, I probably raise more in-depth and outlandish topics than an average conversationalist. I appeal to a lifetime of reading synthesized with a degree of wit and personal experiences. Those factors molded my personality. When I’m being humble and not too conversationally egotistical (far from always), I can be pleasant to converse with.
But understand this. None of the so-called intelligence has much bearing on the sorts of things I want in life (which, thankfully, I go to tremendous effort to maintain bounded). It doesn’t determine my success, insofar as executing the right projects, engaging the right people, fostering proper relationships, and establishing sustainable income. Each of those areas, as I’ve pointed out, demands separate pursuit, street intelligence, risk, and perseverance. You probably even noticed that some mega-successful people lack in other basic communicative abilities, may seem over-pretentious, or plain boring. Success and the nature of your thoughts are not entirely related. In many ways they may even seem to counteract.
Nonetheless, this so-called intelligence does indeed have much bearing on my thoughts and how I feel about myself. No one can take away these intrinsic factors. This intelligence heavily influences my inner fortitude and resilience to uncertainties. And it all initiates from within. Our worldly interpretation is a product of our mind.
Whether you choose to pursue heavy literature or not depends on whether you wish to add this element of dimensionality to your thinking. I like to feel fantastic and enjoy myself irrespective of the circumstances and the surrounding environment, those elements over which we don’t always have control. And I know of few conditions more influential of our harmonious state of thought than:
- Maintaining a physically healthy state.
- Maintaining a mentally healthy state.
The second condition decomposes into further aspects among clarity, imagination, creativity and mindfulness. Reading plays a powerful role here. But not any reading; quality - the type of reading containing rich literary elements, descriptive language, and the humor you find appealing. Not just page turners, but complex and demanding prose requiring time and energy investment. You give more and you receive more.
In the English language, countless works can severely impact your way of thinking and your expressiveness. A handful of examples of authors that have severely impacted me:
- Charles Dickens
- Herman Melville (Moby Dick)
- Vladimir Nabokov (English-language works)
- Ayn Rand
That is just a sample of authors that employ complex rhetoric, extremely descriptive language, and endless literary elements. They demand much time and focus, but they yield those returns. And there are myriads of such authors. Even certain science fiction authors, if you’re into that genre, don’t necessarily lack. Frank Herbert’s Dune is one such example. For a much shorter piece, look into (or reread) Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald). It may have become the only assigned reading I completed in High School. Or to experience a unique combination of particular language and humor, consider Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.
I’ve been fortunate to experience works of similar caliber in other languages. These I won’t address. However, a curious aspect I will note. Different languages have greater cross-impact than I traditionally believed. Each certainly strengthens your sense of abstract imagination. But rewarding literature in one language can even fortify your expressiveness in another. As you read in one language, you expose yourself to greater possibilities. Those possibilities too become attainable in other languages, once asserted. They reinforce each other.
If you wish to enrich your thinking, read complex literature. It will prove one of the greatest time investments. But don’t sacrifice other forms of erudition in the process. Keep your goals in mind!
Questions, comments? Connect.