Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Reading, Writing, and.... Marxismitic

I love reading.  My brain loves it.  It just feels good to have words and thoughts and perspectives and ideas and experiences and concepts skipping across my brain...leaping cheerfully from dendrite to axon to dendrite again.  I love writing because it enables me to pin down all the thoughts swirling in my head, to make them concrete, to make them readable-- so I can understand them.  And once the thoughts are out, I enjoy finding ways to make them clear and interesting and fun.

In college I decided to major in English because I loved reading and I loved writing and I figured studying literature would afford a magical way for me to do what I loved while earning a college degree.

Yeah, right.

What the English major turned out to be, actually, was a whole helluva lot of skimming, followed by hours of pretentious classroom discussion and paper writing.  It turns out one does not simply read and experience and respond to a text-- one is expected to analyze the literature into a pulp, drain out its joy, smear it with words like "juxtaposition," "dichotomy," and "phallic," shape it using Marxism or Feminism or Freudianism or Deconstructionism or Someotherism, and serve it with a side of smug symbolism.

I will admit that formal literary analysis can be entertaining in small doses.  It also, however, carries the side effect of robbing a story or a poem or an essay of its spiritual essence.  You break something down into its component parts and it ceases to be what it is--particularly if you then take those component parts and shape them into what you want them to be.  Reading Shelley's Frankenstein and analyzing it from a post-modernistic perspective can certainly be interesting, engaging, and even have a insightful end result-- but it's kind of like taking a cookie into a science lab, reversing the effects of the baking and mixing, and using the raw ingredients to make a cake.  Nothing wrong with it, really, but why not just enjoy the cookie?  And wouldn't it be more efficient to just bake a cake from scratch?

I suspect my inability to fully connect with my own chosen field of study is somewhat related to my refusal to pick favorites.  I dislike questionnaires that ask about my favorite color/movie/book/TV show/vacation spot because I am completely incapable of ranking things in order of goodness.  I think each color can be perfect under the right circumstances.  I believe different books are good for different reasons.  On a vacation, a soul's current needs might best be served by something nearby and simple-- or maybe something far away and exotic would be best.  It all just depends.  There are things I love, and things I don't love, but it's hard to rate such subjective and personal things on a cold hard scale of "best" to "worst."  (This is also the reason I despise beauty pageants, but that's a rant for another day.)

So the question arises: why am I going on about this?  The short answer is that I seem to be incapable of brevity.  The long answer is that this is my way of  explaining why I've decided to change the title of my "Book reviews" posts to "Reading Journal."   In my mind, the purpose of a book review is to analyze a text and describe its worth to others, and that's not really what I'm attempting to do when I write about the books I've been reading.  Mostly I just want to share my reading experiences because they are important to me.  I want to talk about why I read the books, what they meant to me, how I felt, and the questions they made me ask.

So, anyway, you members of my vast and loyal readership, just know that I know that this big change is going to rock your collective world, and that I hope this essay has sufficiently prepared you for this blog-shattering change.  Hopefully sometime this week I will have time to actually post my most recent reading journal entries.


heidi said...

"I just want to share my reading experiences because they are important to me. I want to talk about why I read the books, what they meant to me, how I felt, and the questions they made me ask."


Is your blog designed with the primary intention in mind of MAKING ME HAPPY?

I ask that because: IT'S WORKING!

I angrily and dispiritedly avoid book reviews (blechy blech blechy!) because they make me feel bewildered and heartsick. Because of how I relate to books, and of how profoundly and fundamentally different that is from the minimizing destructive process you describe.

There are some books that disappoint--some whose contents I appreciate being warned about (i.e. multiple rapes, like in Dragon Tattoo). And there are others I am delighted to be urged towards (like a million books I love who someone recommended, even if just in a blurb ON the book). But MOSTLY when I read reviews about what's "wrong" with a book I think--would you talk about your friends that way? AND: COULD YOU WRITE A FREAKING BETTER BOOK?! SINCE YOU KNOW WHAT PERFECTION IS?

I guess ya struck a nerve. But you already know how I feel, right? Partly because I've said this before--ad nauseam, Cory's heard this speech 17 times. But also, you must have know this, because this blog must be written with me especially in mind.


It certainly seems that way, today! :)

breckster said...

Thank you! This was the best read I had on the internet today.

Karen said...

You summed up perfectly the exact reasons why I didn't like English classes in high school. They completely sucked the life out of all the books we read. Which is why I didn't like reading any of the books they gave us. It has only been a recent occurance that I've gone back and started reading some of the books that I shrugged off almost 15 years ago (man I'm getting old). Course I never did like being told what I had to read. Guess that's why I suck at book clubs too. Anyway, the only thing I can think of that I ever enjoyed in English were the daily writing exercises about random topics. It was the only thing that really let me write how I wanted to and let a little personality show through.

Also, I have a really hard time writing book reviews. Mainly I don't enjoy it much, but I do it to keep track of what I thought about one book or another. Plus I always like to read what others have to say about them beyond the typical "I liked it" or "I hated it."

And I'm totally with you on the not having "favorites." I generally don't have favorites either. I remember asking my dad what his favorite food was and he'd always say "Variety is the spice of life"... I've adopted that as my response these days (if for no other reason than it makes me sound like more of a nerd).

Lara said...

I was an English major for a semester. Whilst I too love reading and writing, I, too, found the joy of it was drained in academy. Hence, my degree is in psychology. :) I hear ya!

Oh, and since you're just reading and enjoying books for what they are and not ranking them, perhaps you'd consider reading mine?

Eric said...

It's too bad English majors feel stuck in the analytical and lose the "spirit" of writing. The professors have to do something, don't you think, have to feel that something is being taught, and impart what knowledge they have, which may go beyond the students range of understanding. Right? Typical student/teacher relationship. Student comes in empty, taught by someone wiser, leaves full. I'm guessing the professor can't just say in the first class "Okay all you beautiful people, go ahead and write", then sit down and watch the steady creativity emerge. The next day of class: "Okay all you beautiful people..." And go on and on.

Collette Smith said...

Lol-ed heartily at your description of the English major.

heidi said...

I see exactly what Eric means--and as a teacher I do feel that pressure to do SOMETHING useful. Or at least seem to be doing SOMETHING.

But I think his description of "Okay all you beautiful people, just go ahead..." is perhaps one of the more beautiful and delightful descriptions of EXACTLY what I TRY to do!

I think that's because I seek to follow more of a "midwife" approach to teaching, vs. the "banking" approach--the banking approach being one where you see students as empty, open, waiting vessels, vs. dynamic, complex individuals with much already going on inside of them, and with much to offer. (And, also, being capable of throwing wrenches into the works! Although--to be consistent with my earlier metaphor--what are wrenches doing in a midwiving room?)

I hope someone finds my comment--this was posted long ago--I rediscovered the comments section 'cuz I LINKED this post! On FB! Yes! I know how to link now. :D

Rachel said...

And look at you, being all fancy with your FB linking capabilities!

heidi said...

Yes, I am fancy. Also a wee (maybe MORe than a wee) bit brilliant. Here's a link to the FB post!

Ah no. I can't link the individual post. But here's the page to my exuberant redhaired cousin. In addition to being exuberant, she's also sweet and smart. Reminds me of my brother (Jason Stenar Clark). And of you!



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