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How will you read differently if you see literature as what is it — life?

When K. Wanderman (a creative entrepreneur and active contributor of OYS) brought up the subject literature for Own Your Story community, my first internal reaction was a huge question mark.

Somewhere along the process of exploring our approach, I had a paradigm shift when Kevin mentioned a quote scripted under the statue commemorating Vietnam War in the US — ‘freedom is not free’.

That was the moment when I moved past the literary aspect of literature and connected with its real value — a record of lives from the past or present, and how we can use it as a mirror to create our own lives.

Why literature?

John Sutherland said that ‘literature is part of what it is to be human’.

When it is stripped down to the core, literature is a way of storytelling that endures the test of time.

It is aligned with what ‘Own Your Story’ stands for — to claim the right of telling our own story and assign meaning to it. It is through our shared stories that we define our individual and collective identity, giving us a sense of belonging that brings a community together.

Through this 2-parts literature initiative, we set out to explore these big questions: What is the role of Literature in the digital age? How can Literature continue to be relevant and engage with the new generation of readers?

The first part of literature initiative is a book sharing session in a local independent book store, Lit Books; while the second part is the film screening of ‘Midnight in Paris’ inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s memoir ‘A Moveable Feast’.

Part 1: Book Sharing

What is literature?

In the book sharing event, we break the ice by asking everyone these questions:

- What is literature?

- What book will you bring if you are stranded on an island like Robinson Crusoe?

From the exchange among participants, we observed that many people’s perception or understanding about literature comes from school. There are some who enjoy reading non-fiction but think literature is hard to understand.

A participant defined literature beautifully — life in words.

Book sharing

We curated 3 book sharings presented by Min Hun, the owner of Litbooks, Jolene, a community member who specializes in mental health, and myself, each of us covering books from a different era, philosophy and writing style.

  1. Min Hun — A Moveable Feast by Hemingway (1963)

This is a memoir of Hemingway’s life in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife Hadley, notable for its account and description of the erstwhile génération perdue and Hemingway’s life as a young, struggling writer. Min Hun shared a captivating and personal story of how he came across this book as a teenager and how Hemingway’s approach to life influenced his own worldview.

2. Jolene — The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery (1944)

Without giving out spoilers of what this story is about, Jolene shared her personal experience of reading The Little Prince as a 10-year-old and how she keeps discovering new layer of meaning from the book as she rereads it throughout her adulthood. She mentioned that this book is a ‘warning’ about the path we should neglect during our

journey, and the lessons we need to learn even though we think we know it all.

3. Isabelle — The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho (1993)

Dubbed in the story of a boy who follows his dream to find his treasure, this is a spiritual book that talks about destiny, omen (sign), and soul of universe (a higher intelligence). I shared about how I came across this book when I was ‘soul searching’ in Vietnam and derived 3 big lessons that impacted me the most — follow your intuition, be present, know that you have the strength in you.

Part 2: Movie Screening x Wine/Cheese Tasting — Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris’ is written and directed by Woody Alan, it talks about an aspiring novelist who travels back to the 1920s in Paris every night when the clock strikes 12. The setting of 1920s is inspired by Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’, where many American flocked to Paris after the first World War to indulge in pleasure and freedom.

Would you time-travel?

Our host, Kevin, started the program by asking the audience, what is their favourite era? If time traveling is possible, what would they do? It was interesting to observe that there are people who would travel to the past to meet their hero, and people who would travel to the future to see how the world has changed.

The meaning of life

At the end of this movie, we had a lively open discussion with the audience about the meaning of life and the best time to live in. The ending of the movie in which some audience thought was ‘unsatisfying’ brought us to the intention of the director and the nature of life — we never know the future for sure.

In the movie, the main character (Gil) learned his lesson that no matter what era he lives in, it will always be ‘a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying’. Kevin pointed that Paris is a protagonist in the movie because it shifts Gil’s perspective in life and took the leap to be his true self.

In the movie, there was a line from Gertrude Stein, “We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

How can we gain courage and clarity to own our story? That’s a question we should ponder upon within ourselves.

How will you read differently if you see literature as what is it — life?

If we look beyond the common perception that literature is heavy, hard to understand, and see it as what is it — ‘life in words’, maybe we will be more open to dive into the story of another person who had created their own adventure, overcome difficult challenges in their lives, or just recording the lives he or she observed in that era.

There must be important life lessons we can learn from people who build the world before us and leave us the heritage that we sometimes forgot to value.

Knowing where humanity begins and evolves to give us the world we live in today, taking in the human condition and journey that transcend time, we can internalize the values and chart a path of our own with courage and openness.

I am co-founder of Own Your Story (OYS), a community-run platform that bridges creators and spaces through ‘fun, experiential & explorative’ experiences in urban centres, fostering a conscious community through connection and creation.

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