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I read a book

I rarely read novels.

I give full credit to my last semester in college, when I read 35 books of alleged literature. Each book was paired with some sort of writing assignment. Compare, analyze, contrast, dissect, eviscerate, pry, cross-examine, presume, broil, persecute—I did all kinds of unmentionable things to literature until the act of reading was stripped of relaxation and pleasure.

Within a year of graduation, I was a mother. With babies and small toddlers and preschoolers and grade-schoolers running about, my reading energy has been conserved for telling the tales of bunnies and trains.

There was the occasional slip-up, like when I read the first five books in the Narnia series in about three days. Then I’d go back to my non-reading ways. Of course I read newspapers and magazines during these years—but never anything with true substance or meat*.

A few months ago, I rediscovered short stories. I could read great novelists in five-page bursts and still get a complete literary experience, including character development and resolution. It’s a little like speed dating. Ten pages of a John Cheever story are enough to tell me not to read anything with his name on the spine.

That’s how I decided to read Carson McCuller’s The Member of the Wedding. I read a couple of her short stories and it made me want to investigate a little more.

I am proud to say I read it this past weekend. I read a novel. Nobody made me. Didn’t get the idea off a syllabus, or purchase it for $31 in a college book store. I am writing about it, but you can’t make me analyze the symbolism of the red-headed soldier, the orange dress, the red playing cards, the sunsets. Oh, no. You can’t make me notice how Berenice is a personification of justice and reason, and how John Henry represents innocence—but also the confusion inherent in childhood, and oh, why does it end the way it ends? And you can’t coerce me into thinking about other Southern Gothic novels of the first half of the twentieth century and how they have themes of death, redemption, mysticism, class and race struggles, ambition, regret, sex, amorality, judgment, and rebirth running through them, pinned on a clothes line from Louisiana to Georgia, hung by the descendants of slave and slave owners, suddenly thrust together in a new society, set against the backdrop of World Wars and economic depression.

Oh, no.

I’ve been trained well.

10 comments to I read a book

  • Dang. That’s impressive. It’s kind of making my brain hurt a little bit. I read fluff.

    Heth’s last blog post..What I Did Today

  • Mel

    Wow, that was beautifully written. I tried to read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter recently, but the quirky Southern characters annoyed me. I’m kind of full to overflowing of Southern fiction for the time being. But you made it sound appealing!

    Mel’s last blog post..Merry Christmas, but not to me

  • Ann

    Say, that reminds me…back when I was in college I had to take a lit class of some kind. We read all kinds of short stories. I still remember the title of this one story that thoroughly confused me. We had to explain in front of the class what we thought the story was about. It was awful because I had NO clue. I was wondering if you’re familiar with it. It’s called “Hills Like White Elephants” and I have no clue who the author is. If you’ve read it, do you know what it’s about?

    Ann’s last blog post..Friendly Reminder

  • Ann

    Okay, I googled it. It’s still confusing, but I think I get the general idea. I don’t remember discussing anything in the description during class…yikes!

    Ann’s last blog post..Friendly Reminder

  • ShackelMom

    Yikes! Well trained indeed! So, it was a good read?

  • mopsy

    Ann—it’s about wealthy American expatriates contemplating abortion. They realize their lives are nothing more than travelling and drinking, and they are beginning to tire of the lifestyle:

    “Everything tastes like licorice…”

    They blame their unhappiness on the pregnancy, when really it is all about all the stickers on their suitcases, one hotel after another.

    I just read it. That was my impression, anyway.

  • (hands over ears) la-la-la-la-la-i-cant-hear-you-la-la-la-la-la….

    I’m all done with being an English major.

    Now I’m just a person who reads. No papers, no book clubs, no embarrassing moments in class feeling stupid for not realizing how it relates to something else–I’m just a human being interacting with a text.

    Not that I wouldn’t listen in if, say, someone I respect would write a thoughtful analysis about a book or short story they read and post it on their blog or something…

    Ann Kroeker’s last blog post..Feel Young Again

  • Clearly I need to read more – well written AND you have inspired me to choose my own novel. I vow to at least flip through the pages procrastinate a bit…

    Shannon’s last blog post..Pay it Forward

  • edj

    Sounds like an interesting book. I love being able to natter on about symbolism and bore all my friends to death. 😉 It amuses me.

    But then, I used to read while nursing a baby. Couldn’t do that with twins!

    You forgot to mention that “Hills Like White Elephants” is Hemingway. I once read a spoof version of it that had Winnie the Pooh and they were saying, “It won’t hurt. They’ll just open it up and take out a little fluff.”

    edj’s last blog post..Elvis and the Twins Do Not Share a Birthday

  • Oh, Gretchen! You have really piqued my curiosity on this one. Sounds like a great read!

    Yes, there is something about those years of training as an English major which forever makes it hard to read for the sake of reading. It’s really hard to turn off the deconstructer in my mind. Just like it’s hard for me to read anything (from the crawling headlines on the morning news to emails from family and friends) without reaching for my red pen.

    Most of my reading comes from the Rosemary Wells library of great fiction these days, but you have really whet my appetite for something a little meatier with this!

    Megan@SortaCrunchy’s last blog post..Seven Rooms, Seven Days – The Kitchen

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