Kindle Shmindle or Reading 101
Since I’ve recently developed trust issues with technology, I’m growing ever fonder of my library card. In a library, I don’t need an internet connection to walk among the shelves, perusing at my leisure. Going to the T’s in fiction, I don’t only see Tolstoy and Twain and the so-called best sellers. I can see the bad with the good, the popular and unheard of.
And the best part, to choose just one, is the books. Solid, tactile, used, wonderfully scented books. And I can hold onto them, flip through them, read a little of each if I want to.
I can get completely distracted from the mission I arrived with, and leave with a book recommended to me by the stranger I chatted with on the way in, whose kids were busy discovering the joys of Junie B. Jones.
Last week I went to the library to check out a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Since an article on Salinger’s WWII experience grabbed my interest in last month’s Vanity Fair, I decided it was time to give it a re-read. Incidentally, the library knew I’d been on a classics kick and had a whole shelf dedicated to the likes of, among others, Faulkner, Hemingway, Jane Austen, and my nemesis Wuthering Heights. There, I found The Catcher in the Rye but was distracted by everything else.
Along with The Catcher in the Rye, I checked out Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, which I’d never heard of. It’s only 200 small pages, so I’m giving it a try and so far so good. Which brings me to Reading 101.
I don’t know what Salinger was trying to achieve with this novel. I know that it started as two short stories published in The New Yorker, I know that it discusses religion, but I’m not researching anything else about it because I don’t have to. That is the beauty of reading for pleasure, which I did not learn until after college.
You don’t have to analyze, understand or care about a novel.
If you don’t like it, stop reading it. If it takes you weeks of strife to get through the first fifty pages, put it down for good. This is a skill we are not taught in school — the idea of reading just for the sake of reading.
I recently read Beloved by Toni Morrison. It was a dark novel about the haunting lives of former slaves in post-Civil War Ohio. The details were graphic and the flashbacks horrendous. My mental state was tortured along with that of the main character as the plot grew more and more vivid. It left me with knots in my stomach most nights before bed. While I appreciated the subject matter, what I was most interested in was Morrison’s prose. Because of that, I decided to focus on the faint love story in the novel, because I could. Because I did not have to write a paper discussing themes, motifs and symbols, I could take a quote,
“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces that I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
and connect it to another,
“Sethe, if I’m here with you, with Denver, you can go anywhere you want. Jump, if you want to, ‘cause I’ll catch you, girl. I’ll catch you ‘fore you fall. Go as far inside as you need to, I’ll hold your ankles. Make sure you get back out. I’m not saying this because I needa place to stay. That’s the last thing I need. I told you, I’m a walking man, but I been heading in the direction for seven years. Walking all around this place. Upstate, downstate, east, west; I been in territory ain’t got no name, never staying nowhere long. But when I got here and sat out there on the porch, waiting for you, well I knew it wasn’t the place I was heading toward; it was you. We can make a life, girl. A life.”
and call Beloved a love story. Because I read it for me, because I wanted to.
And now I’m reading Franny and Zooey, and I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be funny or if I’m supposed to be worried for the characters’ plights. It doesn’t matter that all I can think of is the movie The Royal Tenenbaums. I am reading the book envisioning Margot and Chas as the main characters, because it’s entertaining. If I had to write a paper on the book — what I’ve read of it so far — it would probably be about its connection to the movie.
And I don’t think J.D. Salinger would mind too much.
Newsflash: I just did some research because I was curious and found that “The Tenenbaum children, all highly intelligent and disillusioned, are loosely based on the similarly disillusioned siblings from J. D. Salinger‘s Glass family stories, as director Wes Anderson revealed in a January 2001 interview,” from the Wikipedia article on the movie.
Maybe I did learn something about reading in school…