How Literature Shapes Lives

How Literature Shapes Lives

Hannah Adams, Staff Writer

For those passionate about literature, the written world is a space of comfort and solace amid a persistently changing society. While life is evermoving forward, books remain frozen in time, some even centuries behind the world we know today. To many, these aspects make the literary universe so consoling. Most avid readers have certain works that stand out to them in significance and that they find to be helpful while navigating through life.

For those that choose to study or teach English in their adult lives, it is usually a love for books that weighs into this decision. Matthew Pangborn, Department of English chair and professor, shares some of his favorite works of literature and the ways that books have permanently shaped the course of his life.

“I didn’t know too many readers but one thing I always valued about reading literature was that it was like having a conversation with friends I hadn’t been aware I was missing,” Pangborn said. “I’d find ideas and observations in my reading that were close to what I was thinking about already or offered a new perspective on something I’d noticed or pondered over and every time it was just a moment of sheer joy. So, just about every work of literature I’ve read has shaped me in a significant way.”

For Pangborn, it was Henry David Thoreau’s book, Waldo, that had the most impact on him at a young age.

“Every writer works from the assumption that life has all sorts of details to it that are worthy of much closer attention but Thoreau was very clear on the point,” Pangborn said. “He managed to have a life-defining adventure just a few miles from his family’s house and I thought that’s the way to live: every moment should have adventure, every moment, beauty and meaning.”

Pangborn was also highly influenced by literature, so much so that it played a part in his decision to become an English professor.

“My love of books was fundamental to my decision to pursue a graduate degree and become a professor,” Pangborn said. “People have different motivators that get them through the hard work of earning a Ph.D. Mine was that it just always seemed the natural decision to make, with the love I’ve always had for literature.”

While Pangborn has long completed his English degree and has moved on to become an educator, there are many current English students at GC that share the same love for literature. For Ellen Yeudall, senior English major, it was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas that awakened her passion for literature.

“I really loved the epic adventure throughout the book and how the structure is crafted to unravel the plot bit by bit,” Yeudall said. “Even though it’s quite long, the mass number of characters and their links to one another made it such an exciting read and it still is when I go back and read it today.”

Yeudall then shared her favorite passage from the work and summarized the overall effect this quote and the book had on her life.

“‘All human wisdom is contained in these two words, wait and hope,’” said Yeudall. “I’m not sure if it has affected my behavior or life in a great way but reading the book back now makes me think and understand some of its themes much more deeply in comparison to my first 10th grade impression.”

While Yeudall decided to factor her love of literature into her decision to study English at GC, there are many avid book enthusiasts that choose to keep reading as a favorite pastime. Wesley DeMontigny, senior biology major, uses reading to detach from stress and reality. For him, it was The Plague by Albert Camus that impacted him greatly.

“Humanity is rarely united by the causes we choose to fight for but we are united in the pains and struggles that are tied to existence,” DeMontigny said. “Although it may be impossible to rid the world of these pains, we can’t just sit back and watch. Camus portrays all of these ideas wonderfully in a story about a town that has been infected by a horrible Plague.”

DeMontigny proceeded to explain how these aspects played into his life in the long term as well as a favorite quote from the novel.

“‘I have no idea what’s awaiting me or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing,’” DeMontigny said. “Ever since I’ve read this book I’ve come to expect less of my individual actions. Very rarely will we as individuals have the opportunity to change the world with our own work but Camus helped me understand that shouldn’t be our goal.”

Literature is a form of art that allows individuals to escape reality, open their minds and gain new perspectives. It is these aspects that cause reading to be such a beloved pastime. The significance a certain writing can have on the course of a person’s life is a remarkable concept that will continue indefinitely as books seem to always be written. Only time will tell what is yet to come in the literary universe but there will always be books to read and lessons to learn through them.