And This Is Great Writing

It’s called, “Why Literature?” and it comes from the latest Nobel Prize (in Literature) winner, Mario Vargas Llosa:

It has often happened to me, at book fairs or in bookstores, that a gentleman approaches me and asks me for a signature. “It is for my wife, my young daughter, or my mother,” he explains. “She is a great reader and loves literature.” Immediately I ask: “And what about you? Don’t you like to read?” The answer is almost always the same: “Of course I like to read, but I am a very busy person.” I have heard this explanation dozens of times: this man and many thousands of men like him have so many important things to do, so many obligations, so many responsibilities in life, that they cannot waste their precious time buried in a novel, a book of poetry, or a literary essay for hours and hours. According to this widespread conception, literature is a dispensable activity, no doubt lofty and useful for cultivating sensitivity and good manners, but essentially an entertainment, an adornment that only people with time for recreation can afford. It is something to fit in between sports, the movies, a game of bridge or chess; and it can be sacrificed without scruple when one “prioritizes” the tasks and the duties that are indispensable in the struggle of life…

[I feel sorry] for the millions of human beings who could read but have decided not to read.

They earn my pity not only because they are unaware of the pleasure that they are missing, but also because I am convinced that a society without literature, or a society in which literature has been relegated–like some hidden vice–to the margins of social and personal life, and transformed into something like a sectarian cult, is a society condemned to become spiritually barbaric, and even to jeopardize its freedom. I wish to offer a few arguments against the idea of literature as a luxury pastime, and in favor of viewing it as one of the most primary and necessary undertakings of the mind, an irreplaceable activity for the formation of citizens in a modern and democratic society, a society of free individuals.

Read the rest and then start a book this week. Make the time.

h/t to Adriana Tapanes-Inojosa for the find.

A Series to Follow on Bookslut

I don’t know if you know about Bookslut–you should. The story of the site is great, the story of the founder is great, the writing on the site is great (it’s an old example, but I love it–there’s plenty more of more recent vintage), and they just started a new series that, at the risk of being redundantly repetitious, is great.

As part of the Nobel Reprise, the writers Pauls Toutonghi and Ben Greenman have set out to read and reflect upon at least one book by every Nobelist, in letters. Letters are a way that books stay alive; a conversation, about them, and their ideas, in dialogue on the page.

The books will not necessarily be the best-known. Laureates will not be handled in chronological order. But Pauls and Ben will read every author who has won a Nobel Prize in Literature — starting today.

The explanation of the series, and the first two letters are here; the third is here, and the fourth, here.

Happy reading.

Nobel Prize Winners (Especially Literature)

Speaking of great literature, did you see that the Nobel Prizes winners were announced this week?

Oh, sure, you might be interested in the Chemistry winners, or maybe Physics, or possibly Medicine–they’re all great. The Peace prize (announced before this is published but after it is written) gets all the glory, and Economics gets more attention in Chicago, but it’s literature that sets my heart racing…and this year’s winner is an exciting pick: Mario Vargas Llosa.

If you’re wondering what you should read first by the man, you can check this list out or find out more about him and his writing here. Or you can just listen to the interview with him, given in the glow of the news.

h/t to Adriana Tapanes Inojosa for the heads up.