The classics are what everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to
On July 4th, we both had the day off but little inclination to do anything or go anywhere.
It rained all day, so we stayed inside, napping at talking at intervals.
He was looking at my bookshelf, where what books I owned were themselves sleeping
and staying in the shade. He said, “You know something, all of your books have literary
merit.” It took a while for this to register. Literary merit. I thought that was something all
books had at least a drop of, in order to be books. “All of your books have some
ideology, some theme behind them. You don’t own one single fluff book.”
Fluff book? “What I mean is, I read books just for something to do, a pastime.
You seem to read books looking for something meaningful. You don’t just read a book to
enjoy a good story.” He waved a hand across one shelf as though he was showing me
some grand scenic view. “Any of these books,” he said, “could be read in a classroom,
handed out for students to, well, study.” I pondered this, trying to tell if it was a
compliment or if I have been too narrow minded in my reading. Earlier in the summer, he
had constructed a list of books I haven’t read and moreover, would likely not read if
someone I trusted hadn’t suggested them. One of the first ones I attempted was
Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed it, but it was hard to appreciate the wordiness. The only
reward the lofty language had for me was that I could skip a few paragraphs if I wanted
and still keep up with the story, and the story seemed as complicated and overlapping as
my own life, or when I tell people about my disjointed family tree. The next was
Absolom! Absolom! by Faulkner, one of his favorite writers, though he like myself,
admitted how hard it can be to wade through Faulkner. I tried to get into it, and we even
read to one another as we had with Generation X, but after a while it was due back at
the library and I just returned it. I have since lost the list and will have to get another;
there were at least 30 books on it. Still, I puzzled his comment, and it showed in my face.
“It’s not that deep, Laura.” Damn. Busted again.
My books, I suppose, are just as he says. When I read, I look for what the author is
trying to say, not always on the story itself. I find authors that I like and tend to read a few
of their books to get a feel for the person behind the words. While I do have many stories,
novels, I also have many commentary books, like Four Arguments for the Elimination of
Television, 13th Generation: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, and Or Not To Be: A
Collection of Suicide notes. About a third of them are obviously old college books I
couldn’t resell or didn’t, bearing the familiar “used” sticker on the spine. Any poetry
books were ones either bought for me or suggested by my more literary friends, other
English majors who have, consequently, made more of their majors than I.
Perhaps I think like a writer, or want to, and so look for the writer of a book rather than
the story. He said he categorizes all books into two groups: long sentences and short
sentences. He talked about style and storytelling, and while I can see his point, I can’t
quite say how I feel. To be honest, I never really thought about it before. It was odd
how someone can notice things about you that you never saw, and you’ve been around
yourself all your life. But it is one of those differences between us that I rather like, for it
causes us to see and appreciate how we see, and read, differently.