Monday, December 1, 2014

On Reading

Stephen King wrote a book called On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft in which he shares with readers the "tricks of the trade" when it comes to being a successful and effective writer.  It is an amazing and brilliant book that is a mix between memoir/autobiography and a practical "how to" volume. 

(Stephen King also happens to be my favorite writer of all time).

So instead of being "on writing," I wanted to share some things "on reading."

I was having lunch with some friends the other day and we stumbled upon a discussion of literature.  As a person with an academic background in literature (and having taught it for a couple years), I always have lots to say on the subject. 

We started with a discussion of the Harry Potter series which, while some may not agree, I consider to be great works of literature.  (Who doesn't love Harry Potter!?)  I was then asked what my favorite book of all time was.


That could take some thought.  But, without thinking, I blurted out Catcher in the Rye.  Why?  Because it is amazing!  The person I was talking to didn't agree - she had read this wonderfully crafted Salinger novel in high school and didn't care for it. 

She asked me about the ducks.
Have any of you read Catcher in the Rye?
To me, the ducks are a perfect representation of Holden's desire for a life less complicated by the responsibilities of adulthood.  Seriously, who doesn't wish for that!?  The character of Holden is so complicated - he is ironic in that he represents the "phoniness" that he so despises in other people.

So this discussion of Catcher in the Rye got me thinking about all of the wonderful works of literature I had the opportunity to read over the summer.  I thought I would share some of them here.

The first book I read was a great poetry collection called Book of Hours by Kevin Young.  I related to this collection on so many levels.  The poems recalled moments of sorrow and pain after suffering a loss.  I felt so connected to this collection after having gone through so much with my own father, losing my beloved grandmother last summer, and watching my best friend in the whole world struggle with a serious illness.  Seriously, check out this book. 

I also read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.  I seriously cannot put my love for this book into words, not to mention that Vonnegut was from the great state of Indiana.  Justin and I were going to go to Indianapolis for our two-year anniversary, but we ended up canceling the trip due to his job situation and being in the middle of the interview process for his new job.  But, if we had gone, we were going to visit the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Museum.  Sigh.  I will go there one day. 

After these two books, I decided to binge-read some of JD Salinger's books.  Catcher in the Rye happens to be a book by the great (and reclusive) Salinger, so I decided to check out his other works.  I read Nine Stories, his short story collection that holds the amazingly dark and surprising tale "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," and Franny and Zooey, a book that follows the Glass family, a common theme among Salinger's works.  And then I re-read Catcher in the Rye.  And then I watched a great Salinger documentary on Netflix.  He sounds like he might have been a terrible guy, but he was a brilliant writer.  I think he may come in second on my list of favorite writers.

And then there's Sylvia Plath.

Oh Sylvia.

I found her book Letters Home at a secondhand bookstore and devoured it.  I have read her poetry in the past, but this book provided a completely different angle from which to view her life and work.  The book is a compilation of letters that Sylvia wrote to her family during her time in college and leading up to her suicide.  So then I decided to read Plath's The Bell Jar.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  This book is a semi-autobiography about her life and her struggle with mental illness.  I read this book in a couple days and soaked up every word. 

Toward the end of the summer, I read some poetry from Jack Gilbert and Charles Bukowski.  I read Gilbert's collected poems and Bukowski's Bone Palace Ballet.  They were both great reads.  Then I got into reading Hemingway.  I always teach Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" in my literature classes, so I jumped in and read The Old Man and the Sea (which I enjoyed) and A Farewell to Arms (which I did not). 

So these are some of my reads from the summer.  If you were to pick one off the list to read, read Catcher in the Rye.  If you aren't into immature teenagers who lie constantly and enjoy ducks in the park, then read The Bell Jar.  If you aren't into reading about poets suffering from mental illness, then you don't appreciate good literature.  :)

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