I dare you to read something with substance.
Why haven’t we updated literature like we’ve updated the Bible?
One is supposed to be the irrevocable word of God. The highest Truth, dutifully transcribed.
But depending on which book you pick up, Psalm 23 says:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (KJV)
“You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.” (CEV)
“God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.” (MSG)
On the other hand, every copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance contains these words:
“But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”
Which is a shame, really. Because Emerson’s revelation is most likely to be read by a high schooler, who is simultaneously battling a relentless barrage of hormones dragging his eyes away from the page and toward the most attractive distractions he has ever seen.
When you’re 19, sharp prose always loses to plunging necklines.
Seeing as it’s a new year, you’re (sort of) grown up now and (hopefully) less hormonal, I’d like to offer you a challenge:
Pick up a difficult book, and read it.
Try Gatsby. Try Othello. Try 1984. Try Wise Blood.
And as you read, ask yourself the following:
“What can this teach us about us?”
This will be hard. You may need an hour to read a page. Maybe more. As you read, you’ll be forced to do your own translations.
That way, when Emerson says:
“Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.”
Or when Orwell says;
“The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal.”
Or when Wilde says:
“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
You’ll see more than words on a page.
You’ll see truth, transcribed for you.
Every great piece of writing is rooted in reality, no matter how thick the veil between one and the other.
Take up the challenge of reading difficult work. Peek behind the curtain.
Find the light.