Look at that girl. Look at the way she’s holding her heart, so absorbed in her book she doesn’t even appear to be where she is. I haven’t felt that way about a book in a long, long time. And it’s getting frustrating. And I think part of this has to do with the fact that this project is not working for me the way I thought it would.
When I first set out on this project not that long ago, I was in a different head space. I had just graduated college with my English degree, and I had gotten fired from my first job. I was feeling sad and stuck and like, maybe I hadn’t gotten out of my college experience as much as I should have. I started looking back at things and I realized there were a great number of books that I was “supposed” to have read during school that, for whatever reason, I never actually got around to reading. So I wanted to change that, wanted a project that would give me “focus”, and wanted to be able to step away from my old blog, which had seen me through high school and college, but just wasn’t suiting what I needed anymore. And thus, this blog was born.
“Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.” – Angela Carter
But the truth is, I hated the project once I took it on. As is usually the case when I make lists and try to stick to them exclusively, I was at once overwhelmed by the number of titles to choose from, and felt restricted by my own rules of not being able to read some of the great books that have come out recently, or are looming on the literary horizon. Plus, once the books became “assigments” for this blog, I ended up disliking them every time I picked them up, and in the three months of this project I only actually finished two or three books that were for this list. It’s hard to type those words – to feel like I started out on this project with such lofty goals, and that I have somehow failed those project goals.
“We read to know we are not alone.” – C.S. Lewis
But then I just want to say fuck that! I’ve realized in the last six months of being out of school that the rigor of academia, the system I lived in and thrived in for so long, is not necessarily the field that will be best of me to remain in. And I can still read books, learn from books, talk about books with intelligent people, and in the long run being a public librarian will allow me to put books in to the hands of kids and teens who need to read and want to read. And I don’t have to do all of these things wading through classic tomes. I recently finished reading Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair (a FABULOUS book that I plan on reviewing later this week) and that book taught me, more than anything, that there are lessons waiting to be learned in almost every book, and whether a book is hard or easy doesn’t determine whether it is a “good” or “worthy” book.
“To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry.” – Gaston Bachelard
So I still think that reading is the way that I’m going to find my way through this mental haze that graduation and ensuing unemployment seems to have put me in. I still believe in the power of words and literature, and in the fact that we as people are composed of stories at our core, and by understanding the stories we can begin to understand each other, at least in part. However, part of me is also having some trouble giving up on the idea of this project. To be honest, I do feel a bit like a failure in the fact that I was so sure that this was what I wanted to do, that I could do it, that these classic novels held all the answers. And that’s not to say that I don’t still have every intention of reading those same classic novels on this journey. But I just no longer think that these are the only books with the answers. And, reading them in the situation I was in, I wasn’t able to get out of them the depths that I’m sure they contain.
“Read in order to live.” – Gustave Flaubert
But, as a very wise professor and very good friend of mine told me when I stopped in to see her last week, in tears over my copy of Persuasion because I JUST COULDN’T FINISH IT and that was yet another book from the list I just wasn’t able to get through: there will always be books. And I’ll always be reading them. I have a lifetime to read, but only one lifetime to enjoy what I read. Amen to that, and that’s my new diagnosis – to read, openly and indiscriminately, and without guilt or reservation. And I’m still hoping you’ll join me for the trip!