How Literature Ruined My Life

For as long as I can remember, (as cliché as this may sound), I’ve loved to read. And before I could read, I recall stories being told to me before bed, whether those be ones of my parents’ imagination or simply a passage from Roald Dahl. Even when I didn’t really feel like reading, I’d fall asleep to a Harry Potter audio book or something of that nature. Interestingly, I’ve always prided myself on being a bit of a “bookworm”, whether that’s due to my career aspirations or just because I felt like it elevated me somewhat, I’m not sure. However in recent years I’ve been reading (pardon the pun) more and more into how my love of literature has effected my decisions and behaviours.

You often hear of the media and, perhaps overcautious parents, rambling on about how video games are damaging and playing ‘Call of Duty’ will turn kids into serial killers.. So why are there never warnings issued for books? Sure, reading Sense & Sensibility hasn’t lead to me do anything damaging per se, but I believe literature can have a similarly negative effect. Being exposed to romance novels, chick-lit and young adult fiction has given me some epic expectations which I highly doubt any mortal man could live up to.

Although I’d consider myself a pretty rational person, on some level these extravagant romances have influenced the way I view the world. I’ve only noticed this recently, after spending the year studying texts that focus on love and seeing how often the writers mock idealistic and Romantic characters. Take Marianne Dashwood for example, a lover of Cowper and the like, she’s portrayed as an idealist who eventually settles for something less desirable than her original goals. After studying the text, I’d align myself with Marianne, but now I don’t think that’s such a good thing.

Writers ranging throughout centuries have been building up my expectations since I was able to pick up a book; Austen, John Green, Jill Mansel, Fitzgerald, Kazuo Ishiguro. Whether they be postmodernists, contemporary writers or from the Regency era, the focus is always love. Even books which don’t intend to focus on romance, such as Orwell’s ‘1984’, have great undertones of it. There are few books I could name that I’ve read that don’t include at least a subtle theme regarding romantic love. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s a fascinating subject after all, but it’s never written about plainly. It’s always portrayed through some grand gesture or spontaneity and as a result, subconsciously at least, this is what I expect. Surely every young girl has at least once imagined and hoped for the (exhausted) scenario of someone throwing pebbles at the window or climbing up a vine.. (Even if you don’t have a vine and know it’s wholly impractical). Regardless, you might hope for some modern day alternative. Unfortunately, reality rarely lives up to these expectations and, for me at least, it leaves me feeling pretty sorry for myself. Despite knowing how irrational it may be and how it’s not the second party’s fault for not meeting your optimistic desires.

Now of course, this in no way diminishes my love for a good novel, after all literature is not solely to blame – John Hughes’ films and Smiths songs have also left me with some overly sentimental views, but authors seem to be the primary offenders. I suppose in some way this is my own fault, and I’m not sure there’ll ever be a solution to the matter as so many of the texts that have influenced these views are wonderful and wouldn’t be the same without their romantic nature. Perhaps in some ways I like being the hopeless romantic, (masquerading as a cynic), that I am, even if it comes with a little more disappointment…

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