Growing into My Self

Okay, fine I’ll admit it. I haven’t been reading as much as I should be. I blame my Faulkner-related PTSD. Yet I can’t stop picking up what the man is putting down. We have a love-hate relationship. To be fair, I have read eight books this quarter despite only blogging about six. I also feel like I’ve been really diving deep into the books I have been read. Faster isn’t always better; in toning down my reading speed, I’ve realized that I gain more from the text.

At my slower pace, I’ve been able to indulge in more criticism and boy I’m really into it. While on my trip to California I had the pleasure of visiting two bookstores (of the used variety of course–is there really any other way to buy books? I, myself, am partial to books that have seen a little bit of life). The first is called The Last Bookstore and is in Downtown LA. It’s in a really old building and has a sort of 1920s, Great-Gatsby-esque glamour to it.  Not only did it have a huge selection of my favorite category of books–you’ll never guess–none other than classics, but it also has a section of just criticism. I had to physically restrain myself. I presume that most people aren’t as jazzed about criticism as I am because Barnes and Noble just doesn’t stock it.

The other bookstore that I had the pleasure of visiting was The Iliad Bookshop in West Hollywood. While it may not seem as visually appealing or organized as the first store I visited, it has its own mystique; it’s a (used)booklover’s paradise. As I looked through the endless shelves of criticism, my cousin asked warily, “So are these books for school or something?” to which I explained that they are for me, for fun, not for school. I ended up acquiring a dozen books on my trip, two plays, four novels, four books of criticism, and two books on reading/writing.

Short anecdote long, criticism doesn’t appeal to many people, many bookstores don’t even stock it, but it’s so so important; if there’s one thing I discovered in this quarter it’s that. Every book that I’ve read this quarter I’ve read some criticism on (bar The Good Soldier).  If you think that criticism isn’t for you, I urge you to try it because it adds depth to any novel and it also helps build a more fundamental understanding of literature. You don’t have to agree with the critic, in my opinion it’s often better when you don’t; then you have an opportunity to decide what you think and figure out how to support your position with textual evidence.

I’ve read so many great books that it’s hard for me to decide what to focus in on. I love Flannery O’Connor–how can you not. Yet, Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier was also a very enjoyable read and how can I not mention Beloved, which in my opinion is a true work of Art. Of the three I’d have to pick Flannery as my favorite, probably because I like to think we have some things in common. I read a dozen or so of her stories and cannot wait to crack open The Violent Bear it Away. Her stories all have a familiar feeling to them, yet they still are all distinctly different. Perhaps that’s what I enjoy about her. Or perhaps it’s the fact that she trumps my former-favorite author, O’Henry, with the twists and turns woven through her work.

With each book I read, I learned a little bit about life and about me. I think that a fool-proof way to truly get to know someone is by seeing what passages, in a given novel, stick out to her. It is through reading that I have learned just enough about life to realize I know next to nothing (don’t tell my parents that though). Rather than being my revelation being discouraging, it’s refreshing. It keeps me reading. It keeps me searching for knowledge, for answers to questions I didn’t know I had.

This quarter, this year, reading has caused me to contemplate myriad things. If you asked me on day one of senior year what I had planned for the rest of my existence–okay maybe just for the next four years of college–I have a feeling my answer would be markedly different to the one I’d give now. Books have always been a passion of mine, a sort of side passion that wasn’t given the sun, space, sustenance, or (most importantly) encouragement needed to grow. In the last couple of months, it has been given all of those things. Now I’m committed to finding a way to become the most well-versed, well-read, passionate Chemical Engineer around. No matter what box each of us fit into–or if you’re like me a couple of different boxes–we all need a little library magic in our lives.

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