Whether you are a writer or a reader, beginning to react to literature mindfully can be difficult, especially when done independently. Without a professor, a teacher or a friend who is already adept at these practices, it can be extremely difficult to find a foothold. Your mind can’t begin to notice the things it is not even aware of. By studying the elements of literature you will be able to begin identifying these things as you are reading as well as implement them in your own writing.
I recently came across A Handbook to Literature by William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman. While I own many books on literary elements, most tend to be too brief in explanation or do not cover a very wide range of topics. This book finds a happy medium. Being one of the most extensive books of literary devices I have ever found, it is also very succinct. It gives just the essential information necessary for each topic. Brevity was a problem with other books I owned, yet in this book I am glad of it. Because this book is so extensive, it would be impossible to give a complete explanation and through examples. What has made it so essential to me is that it is a starting point. Just by flipping through, I have discovered dozens of things I never even knew existed. With just the brief explanation provided, I have decided to pursue more information on many of the topics. This book is not designed to be a one stop education in literature. It is a reference book. And that is exactly what I use it for. Once I find something of interest I research it more thoroughly on my own.
Before this book I never knew a Locutionary Act existed, or that the use of an antonomasia in my writing may be a great way to create a stronger sense of world in a fantasy work. Without this book to give inspiration in ways I had never known I needed inspiration, I would have missed out on many subtleties in my readings. It has also brought to mind strategies and tools that I didn’t even know were missing from my writer’s toolbox.
Shakespeare wrote “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man doth know he is a fool.” The more I read through this book the more I realize how little I know. Turning reading into an active past time is difficult. We are taught to simply absorb the information. Beginning to search for these elements as we read is difficult and often we fail to see how it pays off. But once you see what you were missing out on, it opens a whole new world.
If you are on a path to mindful literature this book is a powerful tool for the beginner or the master. You can never grow if you don’t know where to begin. Start here.