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.