We have heard it said that a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. All we have is “right now” and it is our own life that seems to be the clearest. The thoughts I want to present here have to do with real difference it can make to understand the lives of others, hopefully even a thousand others.
If we really want to expand our own experience by finding more about the human experience of others, then we will want to know about the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of their lives, such as their struggles, conclusions, emotional responses, aspirations, and even their deaths.
I have found the pathway to my own look at least a thousand other lives to be through the gatekeepers who are also known as authors. Harold Bloom, a well-known professor of literature at Yale, has written many books about authors and so his subject picks are interesting.
His book "Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human” says that Shakespeare's vocabulary of 22,000 words is so infinite that it proves he knew pretty much everything there is to know about humankind. That proves, according to Bloom, that he “invented the human”.
In an interview published in 1995, Bloom reflected on the great authors of the Western world, stating: “We must read and study Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes and the Bible, at least the King James Bible.” He said of these authors that “they provide an intellectual, I dare say, a spiritual value which has nothing to do with organized religion or the history of institutional belief” They tell us things we couldn’t possibly know without them, they reform and make our minds stronger. They make us more vital."
Bloom found more about our humanness from the authors themselves rather than from the stories and writings.
Shakespeare’s quotes resonate with our lives today. I like these quotes among so many good ones.
There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so. - Hamlet
Hell is empty and the devils are here. - William Shakespeare
Though this be madness yet there is method in it. - William Shakespeare
The meaning of life is much more than our own personal daily experiences and can include much from those other lives that we read about. We learned things from Hyenseo Lee who told to us in her book, “The Girl with Seven Names, Escape from North Korea”, that I am glad I can have some awareness of without having to have had the personal experience myself. Much comes to us in the nonfiction accounts of other people.
Even fiction brings us insight into our humanness. The suspense and twisting plots of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series takes us places we would never go and into situation we would never find ourselves in. We find excitement, empathy and emotional experience in fiction. Literary critics often label a piece of writing as literature - and not pulp fiction - if it tries to describe the "human condition.
Poetry can challenge the status quo and by doing so improve the human condition of all people. An example of this is in the work of May Angelou who fought for equality and for humanity writing about the plights and triumphs of a marginalized people.
The real meaning of our lives is different for each of us and is the sum of our experiences.
Stories of outstanding leaders, who look back at their own lives and tell of how their success came because of the trails and setbacks they had in life, are not uncommon. It is obvious that they didn't see the value of the problems when they occurred but only after years of rethinking the events. Their self-acceptance of their challenges followed years later.
Previously I wrote an article titled “As You Look at Your Own Life Story You See Yourself Differently” which included background research from Julie Beck's Atlantic Magazine’s 2015 article titled “Life’s Stories”. The sub title of her article states: “How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are and is a fundamental part of being human.” Your own story is your life and understanding life bests start with that.
Tolstoy got bogged down with understanding the "meaning of life" and suggested that who we are was really the essence of life. Finding meaning is no small task.
Literature is important in everyday life because it connects individuals with larger truths and ideas in a society. Literature creates a way for people to record their thoughts and experiences in a way that is accessible to others, through fictionalized accounts of the experience.
Look over the book reviews posted here often and ponder what to read next.