Reading, it’s better than ever

This morning, as I started reading The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart, I had something of an epiphany, I suppose: I feel as if I’ve become a better reader in the past decade, reading deeply and with sharper understanding, not only of the way a novel works, but a better understanding of character, of how narrative works, etc. The sort of things I should’ve learned in graduate school.

Instead, in graduate school, I tried to pretend to understand a novel and then tried to squeeze a work into theory du jour. Theorist Mikhail Bakhtin was popular then. I had to pretend to understand something he called dialogic discourse. To this day, I can’t really tell you what such a term means. I can only suppose it means multiple narrators within a Text (the preferred academic theory term for a book) talking with each other or some such thing.

I found pleasure in researching scholarship and trying to digest theory (and anyone who knows me knows I’m no philosopher) but reading for the sake of pleasure seemed zapped out of me. I was kind of hunting out hidden esoteric meaning in a novel, and made it even more difficult for myself by finding such things in Faulkner.

I had forgotten the joy of reading for pleasure and encountering the novelist’s ideas, her view of the world, and the shared experience of discovering it with her and her novel’s protagonist, thinking deeply about the world, rather than trying to make the novelist think like a theorist of the novel. Now I can laugh at the hysterical parts of Nick Hornby’s How to be Good and feel his narrator Kate’s sense of frustration as she ponders exactly what it means to be good. And I can be intrigued by Oliver the aging historian’s concept of time and how that’s going to figure into the rest of the The Myth of You and Me. I’m glad I’ve rediscovered reading these days, rather than whatever it was I was doing in grad school.


4 thoughts on “Reading, it’s better than ever

  1. I feel like I’ve rediscovered reading these days too — grad school, as much as I did enjoy it at times, makes reading complicated in a way I didn’t always like. I’m grateful for a return to a simpler kind of enjoyment — for me, it’s without the pressure of feeling like I had to have a NEW insight about a book. I’m free to see the same things other critics see, and that’s fine!

  2. I agree and disagree. I love music and movies. However, I barely passed high school music theory becuase I found it so boring and soul-sucking of the simple joys I often find in music. On the other hand, the film courses I took in college heightened my appreciation of movies by showing elements such as how the director uses the film frame as a canvas that I might have not otherwise discovered. I think most of that academic stuff is overintellectualized twaddle much in the same way most film and music critics pretty much ruin their respective fields by overanalyzing and trying to intellectualize them to the point of losing sight of the simple emotional qualities that make an impression on you.

  3. Just read another post about the vanishing art known as “reading for pleasure”. And publishers wonder why the business is in trouble…

    My theory: A legion of readers hunger and thirst after meaningful, gripping, beautifully told STORIES as much as they ever did. Give it to them and they will line up to buy books.

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