What is literature?

What is literature and what added value does it have in our lives? Why do people read novels, poems, plays? Why do people read? In other words, what would people’s lives be without literature?


If you google “why should we read” you realize that tons and tons of different sites dedicate a post, an article or a video to this issue. This implies we are not wasting our time and we are dealing with an issue (reading) that is so central in our lives, if not one of the most important “staples” for a healthy and effective lifestyle. The following video is from an e-magazine dedicated to men only. If reading is not considered a manly thing (stereotype, I know, but worth addressing), well, the speaker seems to make it clear and simple that reading……… Won’t go any further, I cannot spoil the video.
Watch it and write down what you (regardless of your gender) gain from reading.

Watch this animation cartoon in which you are provided with 25 reasons for the positive effects of reading on your mind, your body and your social life. Which ones do you feel in tune with the most? Would you add any other reason that you came up with in your group while discussing in class the issue of reading?

Watch the following video of a student like you, expressing the reason why literature plays an important role in her life. While watching, take notes of the words you agree with and be prepared to explain why. For example “Literature is thought-provoking because….”.

This is a video meant to make us reflect on the importance of literature. Do you like it? Why (not)?

If you asked me “Why is it important to study literature at secondary school”?

Well, as a teacher of English I should tell you that knowing a language well implies means becoming one with its culture, so it means knowing its literature, its history. I would also add that reading and writing go hand in hand. If you do not read, you do not learn a language well. Through literature you explore the subtleties and intricacies of the English language. Words are multifaceted gems and it is just through literature that you grasp the power of language. If you do not read, you cannot learn how to write effectively. Reading enables you to communicate clearly, thus being taken seriously in life. Studying literature helps you understand the world. Literature speaks of issues that are still relevant to and in our lives.

Through reading we understand lots of things about ourselves and what surrounds us. Reading promotes critical thinking and inspires us. Studying literature exposes us to new ideas, cultures, and people which can broaden our mind.

Not reading is a kind of disability, because you won’t develop the skill to read carefully, an ability that you will need in your future career. Most of you perhaps study literature because you have to, you may find it boring, if not useless. Yet in time, and hopefully not too late, you will realise that being able to read critically, to formulate an argument and to put it forward are skills you must master to be employed and you acquire them through reading. Literature teachers you to think, it is a challenge, though it does not an immediate and obvious application and for this reason it is perceived as less important than scientific subjects such as maths, physics or biology.


These are the words of the teacher, the one who should always motivate you into doing the best with your lives. However, what is really literature to me?
Literature is what makes me human. I find immense satisfaction whenever I read a novel that speaks to me, a novel whose words touch my very soul. I feel understood, I feel I am not alone, I feel relieved to know that other people share my doubts, dreams, and concerns; that there were/are people like me who struggled/struggle just as I do. Literature alleviates in me the feeling of being alone in life.

Immagine1Immagine2Now watch the following video and write down what motivations your are being given for studying literature. Be prepared to argue which reason/s you are most willing to take on board and make your own driving force to the studying of literature.

Find a quotation from a book (novel, poem, play, essay) that you underlined while reading or a quotation that you may have found on the net, a quotation that sums up the power of reading for you. You are asked to find an image or a video or a song that reinforces your message. Post it on the padlet below. Then post your poem to, the poem you wrote in class collectively.

Now let’s deepen our perception of literature. Watch the video and while watching take some notes to answer the questions below. In class (in groups) you will share your understanding of the video and your impressions.

  • Why isn’t literature a product, but a process and a specific kind of language?
    What is the main quality/feature of literary language?
    Why having a grasp of literature is important?
    Why does Prof. Ron Wheeler mention archeology to make us understand how literature somehow differs from it?
    How can we broaden and deepen our experience through literature? Prof. provides a striking example, which is it?
    What are the two most intense human experiences that literature deals with?
    Does literature break down social barriers or things we, as humans, are struggling with in today’s age?
    How did Prof. Ron Wheeler develop his passion for reading?
    Why does literature play an important role in your education?
    As a future parent what suggestions are you being given?
    What is the intellectual benefit that literature plays in one’s life?


Now it is time for you to express yourself creatively. I asked you to write two poems (one on literature and one on “books”) and a slogan to make people reflect upon the empowering qualities we can find when/in reading. Looking forward to reading your “creative manifestations” or as Virginia Woolf would put it “moments of being”. The following padlets are dedicated to your sparkling imagination: the first one to your poems the second one to your slogans.



3 Replies to “What is literature?”

  1. Sometimes it is not easy at all to run a blog and most people do not grasp the extent of extra work you have as a teacher. Some students do not necessarily appreciate what you do, let alone their families. YET, when I happen to read comments like the one I am pasting below, I am so grateful of what I do, I am so happy that regardless of the difficulties and disappointments I have to face/accept in the educational field, I have students who work hard and whose passion rekindles mine. They are great students not because of me, that is obvious. They are special students who, however, are being offered a challenging way of expressing their creativity and their talent, I think.
    This is the comment that made my day:
    “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” -Jack Kerouac, On The Road

    I chose to quote this remarkable and breathtaking book because, while it actually isn’t my favorite novel, it is hands down the one who impressed me the most and left me gaping the whole time. The author’s words speak to me on a spiritual level even though I know nothing of the beat(en) generation.
    Reading it, I had experienced an incredible variety of emotions and I especially identify with this particular excerpt of the book, just not in the same literal and twisted way.
    What is the point of trying to establish a connection with someone who doesn’t feel anymore excited about life and is generally bored and boring, I ask myself. I want someone who craves for new experiences, who can always surprise me and does things out of real interest. It is a shame that nowadays people like this are labeled as weird because the mockup is that of somebody not passionate or original enough to care to differ!
    It’s amusing how old books can point out the current flaws in our generation which isn’t as lit up as the older one by the flame of passion. I wish more young people were brave enough to unleash their real selves and let others call them mad.(Erika Cerrutti)

  2. “However bad and hopeless the humanity which it paints may be, the work must have an air of generosity. Not, of course, that this generosity is to be expressed by means of edifying discourses and virtuous characters; it must not be premeditated, and it is quite true that fine sentiments do not make fine books. But the very warp and woof of the book, the stuff out of which people and things are cut; whatever the subject a sort of essential lightness must appear everywhere and remind us that the world is never a natural datum, but an exigence and a gift…. Thus, the writer’s universe will only reveal itself in all its depth to the examination, the admiration, and the indignation of the reader; and the generous love is a promise to maintain and the generous indignation is a promise to change…; although literature is one thing and morality quite a different one, at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral imperative.”
    -“What it literature?” by Jean-Paul Sartre
    Quotation posted by Mariam Nofiss

  3. This is a definition of literature given by one of my students (Giorgia Lo Pipero) that I really enjoy:
    I think literature can give hope and delete fear in a person; it can be the reason to fight for and achieve something, it is something for dreaming, crying, laughing, falling in love, something we can resort to and feel in tune with. Then, if we want to, literature gives us the real values of life, it communicates with us in a thousand ways and maybe, it teaches us how to act in certain situations. It opens the mind to imagination, it is powerful, literature is part of us.

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