In the past month, finding myself with nothing to do – or not so much nothing to do as a lack of required activities, one can never be completely without something to do – I have engaged in one of the pastimes cherished by so many children over the centuries (yes, even with the advent of baseball, video games, and clubbing) so thoroughly I doubt it will ever die out. I’ve managed to learn to read again. It would be unfair of me to claim I read in the same manner as I always have – considering I now have a degree in English (focus on Literature). But happily, I didn’t immerse myself completely in the search for themes, modes, archetypes and elusive writing tools while studying the works set before me. I am more of a storyteller than an analyst when it comes to books, and hopefully I always will be.
I could say studying literature for three years has expanded my ability to storytell. Not only did my professors harrow me with the tools of writing – antithesis, simile, hyperbole, etcetera etcetera etcetera – but they injected me with a slight ability to detect themes and sentence structure as is usually noted only by other writers themselves. For instance, the sonnet spoken between Romeo and Juliet. Anyone else notice that without a professor’s help? Liars. It’s just small things like that which make a kid feel special.
Luckly for my inner child, I have a very high tolerance for such a studious strain. Even as a graduate…I have to work to look beyond a scintillating plot to discover themes. Yes, they enrich. Yes, sometimes the author meant for them to be discovered. But isn’t a book a story? I suppose this entire piece just proves I am not one to lean towards a school of didactic literary criticism. Not to say I don’t appreciate literature which moves. I simply find a story more catalystic by relating to the characters than by finding a moral relevance. Isn’t it quite a bit more fun to revel in the wild adventures of Huckleberry Finn than to evaluate him as the epitome of the American Hero? Perhaps my bent for storytelling is what pushes me towards the scifi and titles followed by “a novel” than towards the philosophical and titles followed by “an allegory.”
I have a drive to read children’s stories. I am too efficient (and embarrassed) to check them out at the public library. But someday, I will get enough guts to rustle up a stack of them and snuggle into a chair by the fireplace near the back of the building and ignore all the adult fiction and periodicals and new episodes in the “Dune” series calling out my name. Children’s stories are so simple and whimsical it sometimes seems the world couldn’t go on without them. Think about it, where would the world be without Dr. Seuss?I also have a drive towards the dark. One of the best books I’ve read is “Therese Raquin” by Zola. The book begins wretchedly and ends even more wretchedly. There is no happy ending. Take the Lemony Snicket books and add quality, adult content and author’s opinion and you will have Zola. Ah yes, and quit feeling the need to define any word longer than five letters – by “letters” I mean the scribbles which comprise words. Sometimes a book so wretched can be wonderful for the soul.
Enter Kafka. Kafka is one of those authors my type of reader wants to meet almost more than Moses, but is so afraid to for fear of utter desolating disappointment. While reading his works, I am simply convinced if I could meet him I could get him to explain what in the world he is talking about. But to continue reading is to only be convinced he would smile and tell you to figure it out by yourself, lazy. There are times I could toss his novels across the room and times I could hug them to my heart and die of their beauty. Kafka oscillates between the poetic dance of Fitzgerald and the frustrating sparseness of Hemingway. At times I could eat his adjectives for lunch and other times I get so bored I actually notice sentence structure on my own. Of course he would be a German. No insult intended – it’s just to me Kafka epitomizes a German author as Huckleberry Finn epitomizes the American Hero…