I was thinking today that I am already 9 months in to 2010, and so far I’d rate the year as only okay. I had grand aspirations for it to be The Best Year Ever, but as it always goes, life got in the way of things like travel plans and relationships. But then I realized that one highlight of my year so far has been some of the amazing books I’ve read. Really.
After so many years as an English major and then getting a Masters in English, I obviously read a lot of books, and I can’t say that I liked all of them. I can’t say that I’ve liked all of the books I’ve read this year either, but I will say that Crime and Punishment was better than expected (though I need to read it again some time, since I feel like I got the names of some characters confused and thus missed some of the narrative. That happens to me with Russian literature since I don’t understand the way first names and last names and nicknames work in Russian.), The Road and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao blew me away, and The Sound and the Fury was definitely worth the work. Now I am reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is really good, but is taking me a long time to get through since I keep having to put it down. See, much of it is told from the perspective of a child who recently lost a parent, and at times that hits a little too close to home for me and I need some distance. I really recommend it though.
What is really taking up my reading time is my quest to read The Bible from cover to cover this year. I am not reading it for any spiritual or religious reasons, in fact, I am trying as best I can to distance myself from any preconceived notions or culturally influenced interpretations, and to read it as though it were just another piece of literature. I once took a Bible as Literature course in college, but the professor was certifiably crazy and I learned nothing from it.
I think that part of my inspiration for tackling such a complex book was that I do believe that knowledge is power, and in this case, biblical knowledge could be incredibly powerful. A lot of ideas and opinions are based on what is in there, and if I want to feel legit in forming an opinion in response to those ideas, I feel like I need to know as much as I can about the original source.
I also want to be a compassionate and tolerant person, and I know that for a lot of people,of all different walks of life, their identity and beliefs are based very heavily on what this book says. So I figured that by learning more about it, I could learn more about where more people are coming from.
It’s taking me a really long time to read though, because no joke, the Old Testament is really hard to get through: pages and pages of names and tribes, pages and pages of laws, lists of kings, stories repeated– it’s not exactly a light read.
I do really enjoy when I come across passages and recognize that another piece of literature or poetry is referencing that passage. Sometimes I feel a little dumb for not having made the connection before; for example,in 2 Samuel David cries out after one son has murdered another, “O Absolom, Absolom!” and I never knew that the Faulkner title of the same name came from that verse. I haven’t read Absolom, Absolom yet, but it is on my list to read soon. Another is a song that I love love love written by Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah. It obviously makes biblical references, but I appreciated the lyrics much more after reading 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Chronicals. Here are some of the lyrics:
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
I guess that is one of my favorite things about reading: making connections across literature and cultures. Every piece of literature is in some way inspired by something that came before it, and finding that thread that runs through seemingly disparate works makes it (for me) more exciting. I also like finding universal themes across literature, and seeing how complex, and yet how common, the human experience can be.
I like how texts are so open to interpretation too, and how we as readers help to create the meaning; in a way, we’re collaborating with the author to make meaning of the words. And because of that people connect to different characters and different themes. And the important thing is that there is a connection going on.
Apparently C.S.Lewis said (or maybe it was said in a book or movie about C.S.Lewis; who knows) that “We read to know that we are not alone.”
I still think that is the best description of why reading is so wonderful.