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The Importance of Stories

Brightest Heaven of Invention, a book by Dr. Peter Leithart, was composed as a guide through some of Shakespeare’s greatest writings. The book was quite insightful in its treatment of Shakespeare, but I found Leithart’s preliminary comments about the importance of literature even more helpful.

Why is it important to read literature? Why do stories matter? Among other reasons, Leithart points out that “Our lives are story-shaped….When you ask someone to describe himself, you are expecting to hear a story or a series of stories…Individual identity is bound up with the stories we have lived.” We learn to make sense of our lives, and the lives of others, by the telling and hearing of stories.

Stories also provide a guide through the maze of history. While it would be physically impossible for one to remember every detail of any one day, even large periods of history can be retold and remembered through the use of stories (especially as told by those who experienced the event). Stories are made up of a multitude of details in personal and memorable form.

With all this in mind, it could be said that stories teach us the art of life, both past and present. What have we to say, then, of the modern abandonment of the story? Of its replacement with textbooks which, if providing them at all, do so only in abridged versions?

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