Getting Lit…literature that is

    Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

    Ever heard college students complain about all the “unnecessary” courses they have to take to earn a degree?

    If they knew what they needed for a successful career, and more importantly, a successful life as a contributing member of society, they’d keep their mouths shut and study the “useless” course placed in front of them.


    We complained at 19 too. College freshmen have since the advent of universities centuries ago, but today, their equally clueless parents chime in with them. Since the kids are never wrong, and every institution is out of touch, it’s the trendy thing to do.

    The benefits of a quality, liberal education are enormous. The very word, “liberal” has taken on connotations that it was never meant to carry. Liberal in the academic sense is the concept of being open to new ideas, new ways, and better methods to solve problems. Sadly, like much of modern America, it’s been hijacked by the political hacks.

    Literature is the point of the spear in a liberal education. Reading classical literature focuses the mind, provides experience in the form of the written word, and most importantly, separates us from the knuckle dragging barbarians that rail against it. (think book burners)

    I worked with another reporter once who proudly bragged that he had never read a book. If you tried to read his unedited writing, you knew that was true. He was an atrocious writer and kept his editors busy trying to carve something coherent out of his work.


    Quality literature can take you places you’ll never venture on your own, places that are impossible to experience in life, but that come to life on the page.

    Those who ridicule the need to read the classics, both modern and ancient, just don’t get it. They’re perfectly happy in their immediate world and cannot venture beyond it physically and especially, mentally.

    Literature allows that to happen almost magically, making the dry, lifeless pages of a book, magazine article or online post come to life. It’s almost metaphysical when it involves great writing that stirs the heart, opens the mind, and extends the imagination.


    Ray Bradbury wrote a short story entitled “A Sound of Thunder” which is a great example of extending the mind’s eye.

    As a teenager, I was a voracious reader of science fiction, and Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, and Isaac Asimov filled many late nights on the farm as I read in my room until the wee hours of the morning with just my old 1927 Zenith radio, tuned to 1520, KOMA, Oklahoma City to keep me company. I kept the volume low, on the far side of the house so my parents wouldn’t hear it and make me turn out the lights.

    “The Sound of Thunder” is the embodiment of the butterfly effect.


    If you haven’t heard of the “Butterfly Effect” it’s the idea that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings half a world away can lead to a hurricane on the opposite side of the world.

    The message of the “Butterfly Effect” is reflected in the works of Henry David Thoreau and his mention of ripples on a pond. At Walden’s Pond, where Thoreau spent time reflecting on the meaning of life, he noted that a pebble tossed in the middle of a pond creates ripples that flow out 360 degrees and eventually reach the shore, covering the entire pond.

    An anonymous author, reflecting on Thoreau wrote this short poem.

    “There’s a ripple effect in all we do –

    What you do, touches me;

    What I do, touches you.”

    That is the premise of “A Sound of Thunder” albeit a fanciful stretch.

    Here is the story in a nutshell. In the future, time machines have been created that can take people into the past, not the future, but only the past.

    The story is set in 2055. An outdoor adventure company carefully researches the distant past to find the moment before a dinosaur meets its natural demise. In the seconds before a tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops or stegosaurus falls off a cliff, or is buried in a bog, the company sends back a hunter to shoot the dinosaur, take a photograph of it, and then return to the future.

    One time-traveling hunter, named Eckels, doesn’t follow protocol. He steps away from the carefully established floating shooting area as he aims a hard charging T-Rex. His gun jams and he runs away from the giant carnivore just as it trips and falls into a ravine.

    No harm, no foul Bradbury seems to indicate, but when the hunter looks at his boot, there is a smashed monarch butterfly glued to it.

    He returns to the future 65,000,000 years later. Things are similar, but slightly different, even the language has changed since he left a fraction of a second ago in his sequence of time. All that change came with the killing of that single butterfly countless ages before.

    Our actions have results, even the smallest act can create tremendous change, both good and bad.

    It ties into my favorite poem, written in 1915, and published in my favorite magazine, “The Atlantic Monthly” that same year.

    Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a gem, an insight into human understanding that a non-reader will never comprehend.

    It is an example of why literature is so powerful. The hard-hitting phrase of this poem (at least for me) comes at the very end.

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

    I took the one less traveled by,

    And that has made all the difference.

    Those crossroads we all face in our lives have consequences. That’s what Frost is writing about. When we come to one, we can’t hide in the comfort of familiarity, but if our choice isn’t the best, we don’t have to stay with it either.

    Standing your ground, and fighting against the opposing force is the corollary to the divergent choice.

    A final favorite poem was written in 1947 by Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”

    Do not go gentle into that good night,

    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

    Because their words had forked no lightning they

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,  

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,

    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Amen, rage against the dying of the light by reading a few good books. Give Faulker, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Plath, Twain, Heller, Uris, and Michener a chance.


    Related Posts

    Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?