LIGHT READINGBy "light reading" we mean all those forms of the written word the purpose of which is to teach and instruct by presenting pleasant things. Such are novels, short stories, picture books, story books, fables, tales, parables, adventure stories, travel books, history books...
Its usefulness in the apostolate
To make use of light reading for the printing apostolate is a wise application, one based on human nature and, above all, on the example of the Divine Teacher. Jesus, in fact, taught people by making use of stories, parables and charming similitudes that he adapted to the type of audience listening to his word.
Light reading is the genre that people prefer; it is the most widespread. It interests not just one but all categories of readers, titled and untitled, students, professional people and scholars. It interests young people for they are carefree and it benefits adults to alleviate their concerns; students prefer it to text books and it helps those who have nothing to do to pass the time.
It makes up the highest percentage of reading material to be found in book stores, libraries, kiosks and the family. It is the type of literature that heads circulation figures.
It is a captivating and interesting genre because it is addressed to the senses and especially to the imagination. It keeps curiosity alive and well; it can make a deep impression which, if good, can be a strong incentive to practice virtue or which, if bad, can inexorably lead to wickedness.
The apostle can employ this genre, more than any other, to combat the bad press and to spread the good press. The world is awash in a sea of light reading. In this respect there are statistics which, even if roughly estimated, are quite impressive.
Just to take the book production of works of fiction it is calculated that over 10,000 novels are published annually in Italy alone. Each of these titles has a print run that goes
from a thousand or so copies up to 50,000 (especially for those sold at bookstalls). Thus, in round figures, over half a million copies of novels are sold annually in Italy. Almost all these are then read by a further two or three people; if they are stocked in the public library they go like hot cakes.
Of these novels hardly 20% are to be recommended, 60% are completely negative, while a further 20% are admissible but with reservations.
Here is a case of applying the watchword of Leo XIII, which is "to combat arms with arms"; it is to counter novels with novels, literature with literature.
Furthermore, light reading lends itself a great deal, albeit indirectly, to the cause of good.
Domenico Giuliotti, a Catholic author, writes: "Philosophy and theology tracts (words and thinking that crystallize in reasoning) are incapable of making people experience the living truth of Christianity. But during a reading of the Promessi Sposi [the 'Betrothed'], a living word, indeed, a word of life, it is impossible not to be charmed (over and above a work of art) by the divine spell of Christ's teaching."
The apostle can thus employ this genre as an effective means not only to safeguard people from the poison of the bad press but also to nourish them spiritually.
To achieve their purpose, both in a negative and positive sense, works of fiction prepared by the apostle must have at least three essential qualities. These are: a good story line, an appeal to all the person's faculties, and a refreshing style.
The story line will vary depending on the type of writing or the group of people at which it is aimed. But there has to be a story line.
It embodies the goal and it proposes to demonstrate a principle, to impart a teaching, and an ideal towards which to guide the reader, and so on.
It has to unfold in such a way that the action or the plot is good enough to bear out the story line intended.
The faculties of a human being that need to be addressed are not only the intellect and feeling, or just such secondary faculties as the imagination or the senses. They have to be all the faculties of the human mind, that is, the intellect, the feeling and the will. It may be that one or another will dominate, depending on particular circumstances, but none of the faculties must be overlooked.
To divert a human completely from evil and to lead him wholly to God he must be taken as he is. Now, in accordance with his nature he loves what he knows and wills what he loves. Since he knows, loves and wills with the faculties
of, respectively, the mind, feeling and will, all three must be cultivated in him at the same time and in a way that is congenial.
The style will be refreshing if the basic theme, the prose, typeface, description and all the rest harmonize with the readership it is aimed at and with the circumstances of time and place; above all, if everything responds to the characteristic demands of human nature.
Themes can vary and be boundless: stories with a biblical or historical setting, an adaptation or a re-writing of classical masterpieces, current works, informative and amusing stories...
Although learning and language ought not to be the primary purpose yet one should not overlook the wise maxim that "What you learn through enjoyment you never forget."
Attention is thus to be paid to phonetics, correct spelling, grammar and syntax, word subtlety and punctuation.
There is to be a suitable choice of ideas, identifying the more important from the lesser important; order in distinguishing the various parts; a natural and even passage from one idea to another, proportion between the various parts.
Lastly, ideas have to be clear; there is to be propriety, concision, relevance, symmetry and also
a certain degree of elegance, so that the story comes across in a clear, simple, vivid and spirited way.
When dealing with real events, always make sure to have a clear and distinct understanding of the causes and effects. If, instead, the events are fictional they should be imagined in a way that conforms to the principles of plausibility.
Highlight the personages who have a role to play as well as the circumstances of the time and place in which the story unfolds, while omitting all useless details.
Among the many, we would suggest two: I Promessi Sposi [The Betrothed] and the Book of Tobit, where the three conditions mentioned are clearly highlighted.
I Promessi Sposi is, in the secular field, a masterpiece of its kind. In this religious-moral novel by Manzoni the story line put forward is clear-cut: "God protects the pure of heart who are badgered by arrogant men, while he will, one day, deal with arrogance and cowardice. Over and above the good and the bad stands religion, benevolent yet assertive, for it alone has the actual power to soothe the sufferings of the oppressed and still yet convert the oppressor."
The work's story line, commendable in its simplicity, is wholly focused on its purpose. But, to make it more dynamic, the author depicts some central scenes: Fr Cristoforo's "the day will come", the conversion of the Unnamed, the death of don Rodrigo and lastly the new family of Renzo and Lucia.
The work is addressed to the whole person; indeed, the somewhat moving and obvious way in which the author narrates the facts and describes the most diverse and difficult scenes reveals his deep understanding of the human mind. The faithful and vivid way in which the historical environment is described, the picturesque landscape, the naturalness and singular importance of the characters, such as Fr Abbondio, don Rodrigo, Fr Cristoforo, Cardinal Federigo... the two protagonists... are as so many voices that speak to the reader's mind, his will and his heart and imperceptibly lead him to think, perceive and desire as does the author.
As regards the style critics are unable to raise any criticism.
The Book of Tobit is one of literature's jewels. The argument put forward is that "if divine providence puts the just to the test they will never be abandoned and they will be rewarded in this life." The tale unfolds in the very simple
story line. After describing the misfortunes of Tobit (poor and blind) and of Sarah (insulted because each of her seven husbands was killed by a demon), it shows how God's providence sends the archangel Raphael as a guide for the young Tobias when he goes to visit Gabael in Media to reclaim a loan on his father's behalf. The archangel saves Tobias from the fish, Sarah from the demon and gives her to Tobias as his bride. Lastly, he restores Tobit's sight. The whole story depicts Tobit as a just man who entrusts himself to divine providence.
None of the human faculties is overlooked in this book. Reading the book the reader's mind is raised up to such consoling truths as God's goodness, the existence and protection of Angels, the beneficial effects of submission to and trust in God; the will is incited and driven to what is good by feelings produced in the mind when reflecting on such holy examples.
As regards the style it was considered to be a jewel of craftsmanship and sensitivity.
The apostle writer is to try and model himself on these examples and, when required, to propose and demand that his collaborators in this field of literature do so too. It is useful for him to have helpers, especially for writing novels. He himself will see to such other areas as fables, novellas, story books, history books and especially biography and hagiography.