30 July 2010

nothing remains the same

I recently read a book about reading—about re-reading, actually. It's Nothing Remains the Same by Wendy Lesser, and I can tell two things from the bookmark I found marking the title page: one, I got this in Lennox, Massachusetts, on a family trip out East, probably to see Garrison Keillor do his Prairie Home Companion show at Tanglewood, and two, I never made it past the title page.

No re-reading about re-reading for me, then. I bet you I got this book while I was still in college, looking for ways that literary criticism and an English degree applied to real life. I bet you I didn't read it while in college because all the essays reminded me too much of my required reading.

Now, though, six years post-college and slightly nostalgic for those days when spending a whole afternoon reading on the Quad was acceptable {and was considered “doing your job”}, I read Nothing Remains the Same with a pen in one hand. I was eager to circle and underline and write exclamation points or notes in the margin

I wanted to truncate that phrase—make it lit crit—and remember what it was like to be in a classroom that smelled of old books and young minds trying to understand old books.

I even spent a Sunday afternoon reading in the yard, sitting on my Crazy Creek chair with my Nalgene bottle right next to me. I felt so collegiate {collegiate of a very particular era, the just-into-the-new-millennium era—no Facebook, few cell phones, a lot of desktop computers, and 9.11 happened while I was in a linguistics class}.

This transformation of the reading experience is precisely the point of Nothing Remains the SameWhat you read once, no matter how much you treasured it, will not remain the same. And what was once required reading may now be appealing reading.

If you re-read a well-loved book years later, you may find that you now despise it. Or it may take you back to that time when that particular book was so important, but now you're reflecting on your life that has happened since then—and the way you read the book changes.

As Lesser says, “You cannot reread a book from your youth without perceiving it as, among other things, a mirror. Wherever you look in that novel or poem or essay, you will find a little reflected face peering out at you—the face of your own youthful self […]. [You] can sense that there are at least two readers, the older one and the younger one. You know there are two of you because you can feel them responding differently to the book. […] And this awareness of the separate readers within you makes you appreciate the essential constancy of the literary work, even in the face of your own alterations over time” (4).

{Ok, as a sidenote, you have no idea how elated it just made me to be able to work in that quote and cite it.  I mean, come on, if I was excited to read a lit crit book—oh, to be reminded of those college days!—don't you think I'd be doubly excited to be able to write a slightly analytical piece on it?!?!  But don't worry:  there won't be a Works Cited section at the end of this post.  I'm not that much of an MLA nerd.  I don't think.}

This is a fascinating premise for a book, this mix of personal reflections and literary criticism and research.

You feel like you're at coffee with a very good friend who can switch seamlessly from laughing about something that happened years ago to drawing out the lesson from the mistake. Along the way, she even sprinkles in surprising facts about, I don't know, Romanticism or history or current events. You feel like you've learned during coffee but mostly what you remember is the laughing.

I prefer to write creative non-fiction like this {I prefer to think of myself as forever sitting down to coffee with a good friend, which mostly means that I'm over-caffeinated}, and I could see elements in Nothing Remains the Same that I hope to hit in my writing:
  • Self-deprecating and revealing humor without sounding pathetic or too self-focused
  • Insightful, universal questions, asked not because you have the answers but because you've been thinking about what the answer could be
And now, in a five paragraph essay, please do a little lit crit on my post.  Include examples, with appropriate citation, of how I achieve those two goals.  You may, of course, refer to earlier posts.

Kidding.  So entirely kidding. 

I mean, I may miss college, but that doesn't mean I need to go around handing out assignments so that I can make everyone else feel like they're in college.  I never wanted to be a teacher anyway.  {Except for that time I taught gymnastics.  And theater.  And English to French kids.  And Sunday School.}

Instead, here's an insightful, universal question to ponder*:  Think about the books you so connected with when you were younger.  From the vantage point of now, why do you think you were drawn to them?

* You can merely ponder this, or you can ponder it and give me an answer.  I heart answers.  Here's an insufficient answer on my part:  Anne of Green Gables.  I first read that when I was 8, and I think I was drawn to it because Anne was an overimaginative and talkative and expressive little girl.  I saw a bit of who I wanted to be in her.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite book was My Friend Flicka. I loved it because it was about horses, growing up out west (a dream) & Ken was going thru the same growing pains I was at the time - trying to please the adults in his life & figure out who he was. I need to find it & reread it now.



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