Literature Reminds Us Who We Are

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.
We’re gradually spiraling in the direction of understanding. We’re trying, daily, to understand our selves and our surroundings. Literature is one way we remember, as a society, what understanding came before our experience here on earth began.

The best literature, though, helps us remember we likely won’t make it to a complete understanding. Why is that important? Because part of the frustration of existence comes from not appreciating our limitations.

If a hawk dives into a field and misses a rabbit it does not feel frustration at its existence, but we do. We take a small failure and use it as an excuse to question everything we thought we knew.

Literature reminds us that we’re not expected to advance the human race in one fell swoop because even the brightest authors have been unable to do that. It also reminds us, though, that we are expected to participate in the incremental advancement of the species in each day we’ve been given.

The human story has not been without setbacks, but our history—as whole—has been one of gradual daily advancement. Literature reminds us that this kind of gradual daily advancement is the mark of our species.

Literature is the collection of stories that reminds us how far we’ve come, but also how impossible perfection is. The greatest blessing it can bestow is the blessing of understanding our place in the world.

This post originally appeared on Medium where I’ve been playing around with that new format.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Murtaza Mahmud.


  1. Chris(ty)

    I really enjoyed this post. It’s just about the perfect length for a philosophical post. It doesn’t ramble on, but rather makes a good point and gets on with it. Perfectionism can be very paralyzing, and I have trouble with it, myself.

    1. Brandon Monk

      Thank you, Chris. I appreciate the feedback. I’m trying to do a better job of accepting my own limitations, but it’s hard to do when you expect so much out of yourself. A little perspective sometimes helps. Thanks for reading.

  2. Anjali Amit

    Thank you for this different perspective on literature and life. This gives a whole other richness to C.S. Lewis’ sentiment: “We read to know that we are not alone.”

    I used to read for enjoyment, and appreciation, and inspiration. but had not, so far, understood this other massage contained in literature: that perfection is impossible; that “we’re not expected to advance the human race in one fell swoop.”

    Take that, perfection monster! Ring by ring I’ll break the chain, with literature providing the scissors and cutters, and all the tools needed to break free.

    1. Brandon Monk

      Thank you for reading, Anjali. Good luck with the fight.

      1. Anjali Amit

        Thanks for the good wishes. Perfectionism is a hard nut to crack.

  3. T. Lloyd Reilly

    Great post Brandon, concise and to the point. As a lover of “big words” this was a refreshing read. Simple proof of my commitment to read every word that comes on this site…and pass it on!

    1. Brandon Monk

      Thank you, T. Lloyd. I appreciate the feedback and the consistent support.

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