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To Read, or Not To Read: Why Everyone Should Take a World Literature Class

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USF chapter.

As someone who spends a majority of their time in the science buildings on campus, I’ve noticed the halls littered with complaints of twenty page reading assignments for compulsory English classes or grievances about how “science people” shouldn’t be forced to take literature classes. While I’m no stranger to complaining about writing essays and expressing my distaste for forced reading, I am a strong proponent of requiring literature and writing classes for students of all colleges and areas of study.But what is the point of reading Romeo and Juliet? The Yellow Wallpaper? 1984? What value does literature really have besides being interesting or fantastical? 

Literature allows us to understand different worldviews, experiences, and intellectual traditions, especially those that reflect the culture of the time. Literature mimics history in a way while at the same time reflecting timeless themes. Love, loss, innocence, discrimination, loyalty, justice: we read, watch, and listen to countless stories that reflect the same ideas time and time again, and yet, there is always something valuable entangled within the rhetoric, characters, and plot.  

Human history is the history of struggle, resistance, conflict, and change. The power of human expression in describing this history is no more evident than in literature. Sure, The Yellow Wallpaper is a story about a woman’s descent into psychosis, but it is also a commentary on the societal role of women in the 19th century, on the toxicity of masculinity, on psychological manipulation and neurosis. The culture Charlotte Perkins Gilman was entrapped in bleeds through the pages of the story. Not only does classical literature teach us about history, but it teaches us to find meaning in places where it may not be explicit. In other words, reading helps us to think more critically.

Apart from the cultural expansion literature gives us access to, reading classical literature can expand your vocabulary and expose you to more formal writing and speech. Take, for instance, the narrative tradition and structure of Latin American as opposed to North American literature. By reading different writing styles, you can expand your own reading comprehension skills and develop a voice in your professional writing, whether that be in emails, research, portfolios, blogs, etc. Writing comprehensively is a skill and thus something that needs to be learned and practiced whether that be through reading or actively writing and revising essays for a class. Eloquence and articulation are not developed in a single day, but in the long term. 

Above all, I think that reading helps us to understand the world (and ourselves) more deeply. Writers are able to see the world differently, I think, than other people. They are more observant, more empathetic, they are visionaries. A sunset, something that has been happening for millions of years, can be described by a writer in infinitely many ways in a million different stories. Reading, I think, likens your mind to this deeper perception of the world. Reading, in a few words, allows us to see the beauty in the mundane, to derive meaning from monotonous.

Karla Evangelista is a member of the writing team and Editor in Chief for Her Campus at USF Chapter. She writes mainly for the culture column, taking specific interest in the consequences of the digital age on Gen Z and cultural critique. Beyond Her Campus, Karla maintains a publication on Substack where she mainly writes prose poetry. She is currently a second year Psychology major at the University of South Florida. When she isn't writing, Karla enjoys reading, playing with her cat, Roman, and listening to an ever-changing rotation of musicians. She lives and breathes by the phrase, "There is strength in being soft. Strength in being raw and open and affected."