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Wealths of information are being disregarded as a large portion of the population neglects older books

Literature has been a prominent form of art throughout human history dating all the way back to “The Epic of Gilgamesh.”In the time it’s been around, literature has captured the hearts of billions, provoked revolutions and divided nations.   

At the heart of it all, literature merely consists of written words clustered together, and due to the surge in technological innovations, more people are reading now than ever. The unfortunate reality is that a bulk of what people read today has nowhere near the intellectual benefits that classic literature offers.

Technology has connected the world and ushered in the recent growth of the digital age. It’s had a substantial effect on what we read since technological advances in the publishing field have lead to a greater variety of books. This resulted in a sub-category of literature known as genre fiction, which places a heavy emphasis on plot over deeper meaning.  

This caused the public to move away from reading literary fiction and seek out other forms of reading material seen by the notable decline in literary fiction sales when compared to genre fiction. This is unfortunate since literary fiction is of greater merit through its deliverance of real emotional responses and an altered understanding of the world.

Genre fiction ultimately has a goal of telling a compelling story that helps its reader escape the world around them. Literary fiction, on the other hand, is a moving journey penned from the heart and soul of the author, granting readers a greater understanding of the surrounding universe.

Many agree that genre fiction still possesses its own set of benefits. People argue that genre fiction has richer character development and can be read within a month, whereas classic literature can become a year-long commitment. While these arguments are valid, genre fiction is far more likely to contain simplified writing and lack the impact on a reader’s writing or social skills that literary fiction creates.  

This was shown in a study involving a group of people who had to read three to five minutes of literary fiction before taking a test regarding human empathy to compare their results with those who read genre fiction or nothing at all. The research found that people who read literary fiction scored better than those who read popular fiction. Popular fiction readers were shown to make as many mistakes as people who read nothing. This indicates that classic literature grants the reader greater empathy for people of all backgrounds.

“Popular fiction is a way of dealing more with one’s own self,” Albert Wendland, director of a master’s program in popular fiction at Seton Hill, said. “Maybe, with one’s own wants, desires, needs.”

Genre fiction isn’t the only way people read in the modern day. The internet is brimming with e-books, blog posts and social media updates. It’s no secret that screens have become an extensive aspect of people’s lives. Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time. People’s increased exposure to the internet increases their chances of encountering butchered grammar that inadvertently affects their writing. Studies have found thatstudents who consume primarily digital content — such as Reddit and Buzzfeed — had the lowest writing complexity scores, while those who often read literature and academic journals had the highest levels of writing complexity.   

Classic literature is also beneficial to a person’s brain flow. A Michigan State University study proved this when they monitored individual’s brain flows as they read the works of Jane Austen. Blood flow was shown to increase in areas of the brain normally associated with tasks that require close attention.

Another quality that classic literature can provide that modern written works can’t is history and culture in context. Classic literature has endless potential to educate the people of today about the past in ways a history book can’t. This is through the presentation of a story written in the context of a particular historical period. The narration of the Great Depression in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”and the roaring ’20s in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” are examples of this.

While classic literature is gradually fading from the public eye, with most works only being acknowledged in a classroom setting, it’s important to recognize the potential a work of classic literature has and the vast impact they’ve had on the world.

Ian Welfley is a sophomore media arts & design/communications double major.  Contact Ian at welfleim@dukes.jmu.edu