Eight Weeks, Eleven Books, and Countless Lessons

When I first embarked on this blog a little under eight weeks ago, I never once thought how much I’d learn about myself, both as a person and a reader. I remember, just a little over eight weeks ago, but what feels like yesterday–time flies when you’re having fun–writing my first blog post about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Since  then, both my reading and writing skills have grown stronger. I no longer struggle to write more than 600 words; I struggle writing less than a thousand. I no longer feel like I’m drowning when I face a tough read; I’ve located where I can find a flotation device, where resources are when I really need them.

My repertoire of reads has grown at a rate greater than one title per week, yet it never felt like work. I read like my life depended on it, and some weeks it just might have. The books I’ve read were an escape when I needed them to be and a topic of conversation when I didn’t. I’ve also found a new favorite reading spot in the last eight weeks. I found myself waking up early to dive into the newest object of affection, eagerly reading in the halls before they overflowed with people. Believe me, I’ve never been a morning person, but Plath, Williams, Wilson, Faulkner, Salinger, and Wilde have converted me.

I’ve learned the value of persistence, the joy of completing a book that you know you wouldn’t have been able to in the past. I’ve learned to be wary of what I read, to not accept everything just because it’s in a bound in a book. I’ve learned that my reading addiction has almost rivaled my writing addiction, with this blog being their love child. I’ve learned the importance of storytelling. I learned the importance of telling (or not telling) certain stories. I’ve learned that sometimes the truest stories are categorized as fiction; the whole genre is just a guise that enables an author to fully reveal themselves without the risk of ‘100% truth’ tacked on. I’ve learned value of different critical lenses and how they add to the meaning of books. I’ve learned endless little grammar notes in writing the last eight blog posts, solving even the trickiest of my grammar faux pas (to name a few that I’ve conquered: the less than vs. fewer than conundrum, the un/in prefix choice, proper usage of compound adjectives, and I think I’ve finally managed to perfect the usages of the dash). I’ve also learned–courtesy of Salinger–when to throw grammar out the window; you gotta know the rules before you break ’em.

The area I’ve seen the most growth, however, is in my tolerance for criticism. I never touched it until we read critical essays for Heart of Darkness in class. Yet, now the first thing I do following reading (or before reading, with authors like Faulkner) is search for criticism. Often, following reading criticism, I find myself  wondering if the critic and I even read the same book. Even though many critics can lean towards being pretentious, I overlook their pompousness in order to learn how to read deeper and find more meaning in what I read. While all the conjectures I make and conclusions I come to aren’t always one-hundred percent correct, I learned, through criticism, that there is no one way to interpret a book, but rather there are hundreds.

I’ve never been one to re-read books, but in the last eight weeks I’ve had to. I expected my journey re-reading two of the in-class titles (The Things They Carried and The Piano Lesson) to be beleaguered with boredom, but it only added to my understanding of them. It’s astounding how saturated stories are with meaning that authors, both consciously and unconsciously, integrate into their work. Now, I expect there to be a deeper meaning in a novel and if there isn’t, I either find myself disappointed or I try to find something in the text, that there simply isn’t.

Reading a variety of books/plays has been more rewarding than you’d think it would be (unless, of course, you’re as into reading as I am). It’s as if all the characters are all pooled together in my mind, intermingling with each other. For example, while reading about Franny’s crisis in Franny and Zooey , I was immediately reminded of Ester’s breakdown in The Bell Jar.  I have always been into books, that much is obvious, but this assignment has reinforced my passion. I know for a fact that without the constant encouragement from those around me I wouldn’t have been able to make it through some of the best books I read, like Seymour: An Introduction and As I Lay Dying.  

Books are powerful. They not only help us to feel understood, but they help us understand. After finishing all these books, I feel a little bit like Holden Caulfield when he says that the best kind of books are the ones that makes “you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it”. I’m lucky to say that I feel this way about all that titles I picked up.

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