Meet the Librarians at the Corinth Public Library
The Northeast Regional Library is pleased to have Cody Daniel as the Head Librarian at the Corinth Public Library.
by Cody Daniel
When one is surrounded by books, by the great variety of literature, facts, opinions, stories, and random information that exists in the libraries of the world, one may often be surprised at how a small point of truth appears in the simplest children’s book, no less than in the deep philosophy of the sage.
This point has been in my mind this week as I’ve contemplated the purpose of reading literature, particularly reading fiction. In our modern world of instant information, databases, search engines, and continuous news services, we can easily forget that some of the most important things we learn can only be acquired through experience, through time, and through struggle. This could be your experience or mine; it could be real or imagined—and it is this quality that provides an answer to the question posed by some readers: why would I read something that isn’t true?? When I have history, politics, technology, or hobbies to keep my interest, why would I waste my time reading something that never happened—and possibly, never could happen?
As a reader and librarian, I’ve reflected on this question a number of times, but most recently it was due to the children’s book by Mo Willems called “I’m a Frog!” It stars an elephant named Gerald and a pig named Piggie. This particular pig just decides to be a frog one day, hopping around and ribbitting across the pages. Gerald, who does not have Piggie’s imagination, quite simply freaks out as he tries to figure out what has happened to his friend (and he worries that he himself might mutate into a pig). Fortunately, Piggie tells Gerald that he is only pretending, but that pretending can be quite fun. Even adults do it (“all the time,” as Piggie says).
Why do we pretend? Why read pretend stories? Why does every culture across the globe and throughout time have its own rich history of folktales, fables, and parables? Some of my favorite answers come from C.S. Lewis (if you know me, you know I’m a fan of his). Most people know Lewis through his Christian apologetics or children’s stories, but he was, by profession, a teacher and scholar of English literature. He wrote a book-length introduction to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as a detailed analysis of the medieval courtly love tradition in An Allegory of Love. The recently reprinted collection Image and Imagination contains his educational theories on the teaching of English, as well as his first review of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
However, for our purposes, we’ll look into one of his last scholarly works. In An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis gives this answer to why we read fiction: “we seek an enlargement of our being…we want to see with other eyes…to feel with other hearts, as well as our own.” He concludes his essay, emphasizing the aspect of reading fiction, “Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…In reading great literature, I become a thousand men and yet remain myself…I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.” He compares this with other qualities that are unique to the human race, such as faith, love, virtue, and knowledge. In reading, Lewis writes, “as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”
As I said, some truths are found on the bookshelves of the philosopher just as easily as in the books of the child. But we shouldn’t be surprised at this. More than two thousand years ago, Aristotle wrote that all philosophy begins in wonder—that is to say, it begins with perhaps the most noticeable quality found within a child. We can—like children, like philosophers—wonder at the world. We can, to our benefit, even begin to pretend.
Cody Daniel is the head librarian at the Corinth Library. He can be reached at 662-287-2441 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.