With the loss of a literary culture and the replacement of that with more immediate experiences, literature has started to gain an almost elite status. A career in literary studies is not commonly embarked upon here in the UAE, and one devoted to the study of literature entirely, rather than the writing of literature, is even rarer.
When 2018 was given the name ‘Year of Reading’ in the UAE, I had hoped that there would be a change with not just the interest in literature, but also with seeing literature as more than just a tool towards something “better”. In a time where everything has become yet another tool to achieve something else, and where we are surrounded by words like ‘goals’, ‘dreams’, ‘ambitions’, ‘success’, it is no wonder that that has seeped into the world of literature too. We have to give reasons for why literature is important and why reading will help you. But now with the new year and more opportunities to attend literature festivals, this is a good time to have a second look at why literature is important for you.
There are lots of skill-related benefits. You would improve your language skills, your critical thinking skills, and your openness to people, places, ideas, thoughts. You would also improve your own writing, which is quite an advantage if you’re looking to succeed career-wise. Talking about literary history gives you an air of scholarliness. It will introduce you to people with similar tastes in books and help you understand literary references in TV shows and films that you can humble-brag about in front of your friends. If you quote books, you are less likely to lose an argument, since book references have a hint of authenticity that websites do not.
These may all very well be sufficient reasons to want to pick up a book and read. But these are, in my opinion, all the wrong reasons. If your interest in a hobby is because it offers you something else apart from its own enjoyment, you have already stripped it of its value and made it ugly. Literature is no different from art; it is a way to feel pleasure, understand beauty, and learn more about the truths of the world than reality seems to offer.
The most valuable reason to read a book is because you enjoy it, and then learn from it. Festivals like the Emirates Literature Festival are a good reminder that there are different truths to be learnt from different people, and in that complexity there is a whole world of joy to be found. Literature is not only for the elite, but it is also not for everyone. But if it is for you, even a little bit, then go to these festivals and immerse yourself in a culture that is populated by people who read, only because they enjoy it.