Some random musings:
I learned more about human nature from a serendipitous and careful reading of interesting poetry and novels than from 4 semesters of undergrad psychology survey courses. History books are as useful as novels here, but there is something about the novel that lays bare human motives yearnings and dreams.
Aldous Huxleyonce wrote: “The poet is, etymologically, the maker. Like all makers, he requires a stock of raw materials — in his case, experience. Now experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and co-ordinating.”
I think that it is this gathering of deep ‘experience‘ through perception, intuition, observation, and lived experiences, that makes literature, poetry and in particular the novel such an interesting and useful distillation of the human condition, and what makes studying other people’s poetry stories and novels a very important stage. You don’t have to drown in the crap, and you should read a bit distanced and removed – for every writer has an agenda on some level, and you should be able to fairly evaluate that agenda and weight it without being sucked into it by the force of their words alone – but at some level if you don’t read some literature you may find yourself at a disadvantage in dealing with other people.
If you read too much of it, you risk becoming a schmuck…