Literature Is Not Medicine

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In The World Exchange, Alena Graedon’s debut novel, language is in danger, and reading becomes a means of salvation. Over at the New Yorker, bibliophile Peter C. Baker explains the problem with the idea that reading could be a panacea. In his words, “practical urgency and literature have little business mixing.” Baker believes that reading “cuts against the grain of the everyday,” helping us to escape “the jobs we have to work” and “the bills we have to pay.” Reading is not about fixing the world around us, but about finding a way to escape it.

I’m not even entirely opposed, as I know some authors and critics are, to the notion that reading can be “good for you.” But by literalizing this fact—by making print books the antidote for an actual disease—“The Word Exchange” comes dangerously close to arguing for literature as medicine… When the act of reading becomes required… the risk is that the very thing that that makes books most special will get lost.


Serena Candelaria is a Rumpus intern, and a self-proclaimed fiction addict. This summer, she worked at 29th Street Publishing and began writing a novella. She is currently a senior at Yale, where she studies Literature. More from this author →