Hi guys! Wassup? We all know what I haven't been doing, so we won't even go there, sister, but one thing I can tell you that I *have* been doing a lot lately--due to a springtime hibernation mode--is reading. I was reading so much, in fact, that I decided to get hip with the Internet thing and sign up over at Goodreads. Just so I could start tracking stuff, and just be all anal about everything. You know, the way geeks do. And I gave you that link there so you can be friends with me there. Go ahead! Be not shy! I shall accept your friendship, and we shall talk about books, and all shall be good.
So, as I was adding books to my collection, and looking through others, and, while simultaneously looking at books that my kid is reading in school this year, I realized something quite shocking: There are a whole bunch of classics I've never read. Okay, maybe it's not shocking at all. I suppose it's true for a great many of us. Still, I like, in general, to think of myself as "well read," given that I've been steadily reading since, well, I learned how to read. And ya know, I was an English major at UC Berkeley. That was four (okay five) years of reading right there. But once I started making a list of those classics that we've supposedly all read, I realized how many I missed. This is just off the top of my head (there are many more):
Jeff Green's Pile of Shame
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (now read)
The Catcher in the Rye (reading now)
The Grapes of Wrath
War And Peace
East of Eden
A Tale of Two Cities
Most of Hemingway
...and this is not to mention all sorts of old Greek stuff, etc (though I did read the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid.)
Really, this list could go on and on. I think what I've been most bummed about is the American classics I've missed, especially Huckleberry Finn, which is what started this whole "I can't believe I haven't read that" thing in the first place. I've spent a whole lot of time reading humorists and other funny/satirical writers (Flann O'Brien, Bill Bryson, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, etc etc, but to have missed out on this book, and on Mark Twain in general, feels like such a gigantic fail. And now that I've read Huckleberry Finn, the fail is even more confirmed: It's a masterpiece, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny in places and an absolute triumph of a unique, sustained, unreliable narrator voice. Yeah, I agree with the general consensus that the last section with Tom Sawyer gets fairly insufferable, but there is so much that is so good up until that point, that, for me anyway, all is forgiven. That he wrote this over 100 years ago and still is as biting as ever makes it--like Don Quixote, another comic classic--genius in its timeless portrayal of human behavior in all its clueless, hapless indignity.
Interestingly, from here I've gone straight to Catcher in the Rye, and without ever having taken a course on either book or read one hifalutin' academic treatise on the subject, the link between Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield is palpable and obvious. What I wasn't expecting out of this book, since all I knew about it was that it's the bible of teen angst, is how damn funny it is, too.
In fact, though I'm beating myself for not having read these when younger, I think the greater truth is that I'm glad I'm reading them now, in my 40s, when it's a matter of choice, rather than a forced class assignment, with no one telling me how I should think or feel, or Why These Books Are Important. Also, I've just lived a lot more life myself. I can differentiate and appreciate better between what Huck and Holden are saying, and what the authors are saying about what they're saying. Reading reader comments about Catcher in the Rye, I see so many complaints about how unpleasant and screwed up Holden is, how he is not some kind of arbiter of cool teen angst, but all I can see is, well, yes, of course, because Salinger doesn't see him that way either. Is it not clear, from somewhere around page 3, that this kid is writing from some kind of loony bin/retreat, that his life has completely broken down? It's the very definition of an unreliable narrator. So though Holden makes us laugh, though we can cheer on his cutting dismissal of phonies and hot shots, the fact is, he's a mess, he's pathetic, and he's completely in denial of his own misery.
But, hey. Now I'm writing an English paper. Yikes. SCREW THAT. All I wanted to report here was how much I am enjoying my belated foray into the American classics. I've got two sitting on my nightstand coming up next: The Grapes of Wrath, and Faulkner's Light in August. All I've read of Steinbeck is Of Mice and Men. Faulkner, I'm a tad better on, having read a few in college, as well as The Unvanquished a few weeks ago. But I'm looking forward to continuing on.
And don't worry, I'm not forsaking my geeky and/or lowbrow reading! If I can't quite muster up the energy to go straight into Steinbeck, I may sneak in Jim Butcher's first book in the Dresden series, or maybe Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon. I will always be "slumming." Right now, though, I'm enjoying the meatier stuff. It's coinciding well with my hibernation, my feeling of needing to regroup and reassess before going forward with my life.
Now all I need is a desert island, and an endless supply of coffee, and I could just read for the rest of my days.