Literature – The Gift That Keeps On Giving


Value of Literature

We learn a lot of things at home, at school, from friends, and from listening to various people wiser and cleverer than ourselves. But many of the most valuable things we know come from the literature we have read. Just as stories help explain the world to us, they also connect us to other lives. If we read well, we find ourselves in a conversational relationship with the most creative minds of our own time and of the past. Time spent reading literature is always time well spent.

Understanding Ourselves Better Through Literature

Every work of literature, however humble, is at some level asking: “What’s it all about? Why are we here?” Philosophers, spiritual folks, and scientists answer those questions in their own ways. In literature it is imagination that grapples with those basic questions.

Literature can transport us to a greater awareness of who, what, and where we are. It helps us make sense of the infinitely perplexing situations in which we find ourselves as human beings. As an added bonus, literature does so in ways that please us and make us want to read more.

Literature Helps Us Handle Complexity

At its basic level, literature is a collection of unique combinations of 26 small back marks on a white surface – letters in other words, since the word literature means things made of letters. Those combinations are more magical than anything a conjurer can pull out of his top hat. Yet a better answer would be that literature is the human mind at the very height of its ability to express and interpret the world around us.

Literature, at its best, does not simplify, but it enlarges our minds and sensibilities to the point where we can better handle complexity – even if, as is often the case, we don’t entirely agree with what we are reading. Literature enriches our lives in ways nothing else quite can, and makes us more human – and the better we learn to read, the better it will do that.

Inexhaustible Nature of Literature

The great works of literature are inexhaustible – that is one of the things that makes them great. A great work of literature continues giving at whatever point in life you read it. And, re-reading is one of the greatest pleasures that literature offers us. However often you go back to literary works, they will always have something new to offer.

We live in a golden age when, thanks to modern translation services, not just “literature” but “world literature” is available to us to read. There is hugely more literature than any of us will read in a lifetime. At best we can put together an intelligent sample, and the most important decision to make is how to assemble our selection.

A Little History of Literature
A Little History of Literature

John Sutherland



John Sutherland
John Sutherland
born 1938

. Professor John Sutherland (British Council Literature)
. Wikipedia

John Sutherland is a British academic, newspaper columnist and author. Sutherland is an Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at University College London. He has taught students at every level and is the author or editor of more than 20 books.

Sutherland specialises in Victorian fiction, 20th century literature, and the history of publishing. Among his works of scholarship is the Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (known in the US as Stanford Companion, 1989), a comprehensive encyclopedia of Victorian fiction. A second edition was published in 2009 with 900 biographical entries, synopses of over 600 novels, and extensive background material on publishers, reviewers and readers.

Books John Sutherland has written include:


Giving Thanks

Celebrate Thankfulness

The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.

…..David Steindl-Rast

Background on David Steindl-Rast

How Can We Cultivate Our Capacity for Solitude When Smartphones Tempt Us with Constant Connection?

We are at a crossroads: So many people say they have no time to talk, really talk, but all the time in the world, day and night, to connect. When a moment of boredom arises, we have become accustomed to making it go away by searching for something – sometimes anything – on our phones. The next step is to take the same moment and respond by searching within ourselves. To do this, we have to cultivate the self as a resource. Beginning with the capacity for solitude.

Reclaiming Conversation
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

Sherry Turkle



Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle

born 1948

. MIT profile
. Sherry Turkle (her website)

Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Turkle is the founder (2001) and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She obtained a BA in Social Studies and later a Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology at Harvard University.

Turkle now focuses her research on psychoanalysis and human-technology interaction. She has written several books focusing on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects.

Books written by Sherry Turkle include:

Connected, but alone? – TED Talk by Sherry Turkle

What Can We Learn When Life Interrupts Our Most Cherished Plans?

Life can interrupt our most cherished plans, providing us a reminder that circumstances are indifferent to our ideals and intentions. And, sometimes the circumstances are inside us like buried mines waiting to explode. The main threats to the contented mind come from the mind itself. Enemies within, compulsions we did not know about, because our life did not come with a map of its inner topography enclosed, a guide to its psychic waves.

Leaving Alexandria
Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt

Richard Holloway

Background on Richard Holloway


Houdini’s Magic – The Irresistible Spectacle of Concealment and Deception

Houdini’s fear of being imitated – his need to be unique, unprecedented, unthinkable – was matched by his desire not to imitate himself too much. He was a tireless inventor of things that might defeat him, of traps that could kill him. And all these stunts, as he called them – the word itself meaning a performance, a feat, an event – had that kind of uncanny symbolic resonance that made him an irresistible spectacle, a unique draw in a newly emerging and ever more powerful entertainment industry (Houdini would eventually start his own Film Development Corporation).

Houdini was determinedly and calculatingly a spirit of the age, but by using a vocabulary of familiar cultural objects – chests, trunks, beds, locks, ice (for freezing and preserving food) – he seemed to speak the strange language they seemed to encode, as though the drama of the age was claustrophobia, of the confinement created by new kinds of freedom.

The magic was to escape without damaging the locks, without even chipping the ice. It could all be done without violence, everything would seem the same. The grand illusion was that nothing had changed – neither Houdini nor his box – but everything was different. It was literally a revolution – a radical and irreversible reordering, and a repetition of the same thing unmodified, without apparent struggle. It was magic, an art form in which success was the concealment of difficulty, and the difficulty was deception.

Houdini's Box: The Art of Escape
Houdini’s Box: The Art of Escape
Adam Phillips

Background on Adam Phillips


Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz, later Ehrich Weiss or Harry Weiss) was a Hungarian born American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice in vaudeville in the US and then as “Harry Handcuff Houdini” on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it.

Houdini died, at age 52, of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix.