Friday, May 20, 2011

The Friday 4: Books I'm Embarrassed to Have Not Read

You might think that I like to read given that I have a master of fine arts degree in creative writing; am a PhD student studying contemporary American literature; have three large bookshelves full of books and many other stacks of books that won't fit; and teach courses focused on writing and reading. You would, however, be wrong. 

Graduate school officially killed my love of reading. I can't say when this happened - year 2? 4? - and I hope in my heart of hearts that the damage is not irreparable, but I wouldn't place any bets at this point. These days, the most I like to read is Martha Stewart's amazing website (crafts, decor, and wonderful things galore!) and Shape magazine. Anything more involved than that, well, thanks but no thanks. 

Even so, I fake a love for reading when necessary (like, at school), playing the role of the avid, interested reader at least semi-convincingly when it counts. There are, though, more than a few gaping holes in my reading that I just don't know if you can fake your way around. These books are so frequently referenced and so commonly known by others - whether students of literature or not - that I really should just break down and, well, read them. But I don't wanna . . . . 

4.  Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961) 

I love using the phrase that originates with this novel's name, but I couldn't tell you a darn thing about the contents of this book. I feel like everyone I know who read this read it in high school - along with #2 below - and it seems that we're about a decade or so past that point. Brad loves this book and highly recommends it, though. (He's read all the books on this list except #1 - what a show off.) 

3.  1984 by George Orwell (1948) 

Doesn't he look like
Sean Penn?!
Let me tell you, it's harder than you may think to pretend you've read a book (a classic, no less) when not one, but two of your students are writing a paper on it. I recommend Wikipedia, backed up by reputable websites. Maybe go to the third or fourth page of Google results so that when you talk about the book you're not using the same exact language your students are likely to see when they, invariably, search for their so-called "favorite" book online so they can figure out something to say as well. 

I do give a thumbs-up to Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant," which is a thought-provoking read. I taught it in two creative writing classes a few years ago, though, and it definitely wasn't a class favorite. 

2.  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951) 

I know a few things about this topic. I know, for example, that Salinger was a recluse. I know, also, that my mother used to teach this book to high schoolers (along with To Kill a Mockingbird, another one that I, unsurprisingly, haven't read) - at least I'm pretty sure she did. 

That about covers what I've got to offer. I don't know if I heard one word about this novel in high school, which is apparently when you've got to read this thing for it to be the most unbelievable book blah blah etc. etc. But I can't tell you the number of times people have mentioned this book in my presence since then. 

1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902) 

Last fall, we studied Heart of Darkness in my modernism class. Did you not read said novella then, dear student? you ask. No: I listened to it on cd. Two months in advance. And I didn't remember a damn bit more than the plot when the time came for class discussion. You can imagine how actively I participated that night. 

Thematically and structurally, it's a cool book. But otherwise, let's just say it's not my cup o' joe. I mean tea. No, I actually mean joe. Unfortunately, I feel like this book more than all others that I've read and haven't read is on the tongues of professors and other students, no matter their interests. I mean, at least I know the basics, right? Doesn't that count for something? 

A young Robert Duvall! He rocks!   

(Note: I have seen Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film based on Heart of Darkness - and I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. Then again, I almost categorically dislike any movie made before 1985, so not hating it is kind of a compliment. Plus, Robert Duvall as Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore could not be any awesomer.)

1 comment:

  1. I have read everything in your list except for Catch 22. Whenever that book comes up in conversation or someone mentions it...I feel anxiety and shame. Haha. I really will have to read it someday...