Why do I bother reading at all?
That is a loaded question, to be sure. I can remember a time in my life when I read because it was a challenge to overcome. Later in life, I read for enjoyment, even to escape whatever my perception of reality was at the time. At this point in my life, however, I find something else drawing me to literature, something at once both infinitesimally minute in its focus and immeasurably universal in its application. Literary analysis is that deeper appeal.
I can already see a self-proclaimed literary purist shaking a dumbfounded face at the idea that analysis is a deeper appeal than appreciation. As if something so complex as literature could be quantified, measured, examined, categorized, and methodically studied, right? Perhaps such an endeavor sounds too scientific to be associated with something often labeled an "art." Then again, perhaps the line often drawn between science and art is not as defined as we often think. Certainly the artistic objects we study are greater than the sum of their parts, and the relative significance of those objects is boundless. And yet, is it not the greatest appreciators of anything that we expect to be the ones who have spent the most time, examined from the most angles, and explored the most minutia? I would submit, then, that skimming surfaces amounts to about as deep of an appreciation as one who identifies wrapped gifts without ever opening them.
Literature itself is indeed a gift, as is learning how to appreciate it by learning how to recognize all the different things it is and does. And this kind of appreciation, however intuitive it might be on some level for nearly all literate individuals, can only grow as a reader becomes an analyst. Like a good detective, a literary analyst sharpens his senses and practices perceiving more than is immediately apparent to the untrained eye. He takes in more of the scenes, sees more nuances in the characters, and ultimately reaches a place that emphasizes the universality of literature: thematic patterns. The things to which we truly relate in literature, which make literature accessible and timeless, are the things that arise from seeing the patterns, comparisons, and contrasts that arise as we extract and abstract from the literary occasions those things that illustrate relatable aspects of the human condition itself.
So this is why I read—to consider the connections, pick out the patterns, and recognize what literature is telling me about myself, about the others I know, about others I will never meet, and about the world in which we all live. If I seem sometimes to get lost in the details, then, it is because I am. But we only find the meaning of the whole when we are willing to immerse ourselves in the parts. For that reason, my goal is never to detract from the value of literature by putting it under a microscope. On the contrary, I hope to enhance my reading, and the reading of others, by bringing more of literary occasions to light. In attempting to do so, I do not deceive myself into thinking that I can exhaust any literary instance. But just because something is inexhaustible does not mean it is not worth exploring as thoroughly as one is able. I suppose that I will be learning about and learning from literature until the day I die. And I will consider the commitment to have exceeded expectations if I can convince even one other to do the same.