Now that I am watching John Green of the Vlogbrothers dissect The Great Gatsby with all that critical reading stuff I had no time or patience for in high school (also, only pretended to read The Great Gatsby in high school), I wonder if I need to go back and re-read all the crap I blew off back then. Because, you know what? Aside from Jane Eyre and maybe Emma, nothing that falls into the “classics” circle really overlaps with my “favorites” circle. And I think that’s because I was turned off from that kind of stuff in high school, because I was an idiot who thought critical reading for themes and symbolism was a waste of my time and probably just stuff the teacher made up, because, really? The author just buried all that stuff in there? Why, to make my life hard? AS IF. (It was the 90s.)
Except, yeah, they kind of do bury all that stuff in there. And I want to say I regret not being more critical in my critical reading back in high school, but let’s be honest. I don’t. I was an honor roll student without reading any books. I feel I made pretty excellent use of my time back in high school. I didn’t not read (what?) any books. I mean, I didn’t read the ones I was assigned. And I still did pretty okay.
But I’m wondering if now, in my totally mature almostthirtyhood, I am ready to give some of these books another try, maybe with a little more patience. Except for Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I won’t. I can’t even remember the slightest hint of what the plot of this book is, but I distinctly remember flinging myself to my bedroom floor when I attempted to read it my senior year of high school. So. No. Won’t be having any part of that again.
But then I remember that I have about three minutes a day to actually read. That I read books one page at a time. Okay, everyone reads books one page at a time, but I mean one page per session of reading. That it took me an entire month to read A Discovery of Witches, even though everyone else in the world lapped me twice on Twitter during my reading. And I also remember that I have a Kindle loaded with fun books and I’m reading The True Meaning of Smekday.
But maybe – MAYBE – I don’t have to get all D’Ubervilley. Maybe all books have something to offer to the critical reader. Right? Maybe, in The True Meaning of Smekday, there’s some deep symbolism to when the main Boov, J.Lo, is wearing is ghost costume, like when Holden is wearing his stupid flap-hat.
Maybe I’ll just watch all of the John Green videos on The Great Gatsby and continue to say I’ve read it, like I have since high school.
Tell me the truth. As an adult who is out of school (I KNOW THAT SOME OF YOU ARE NOT ADULTS AND ARE NOT OUT OF SCHOOL OR DON’T CONSIDER YOURSELVES ADULTS OR THINK THE WOOOORRLD IS YOUR SCHOOL), are you a critical reader? How often are you picking up books that could be found on a high school honors English reading list? If you do help yourself to classics on the regular, are you reading them to read them, or are you applying your deep reading skills to discover themes, symbolism and whatnots?
Oh, MAN, it used to make me SO ANGRY when a teacher would ask me to choose and discuss a major theme of the book, because I never grasped the definition of the word “theme” as teachers wanted me to understand it in that context. Um, plot? Moral? What? I don’t know. Never got it. Don’t explain it to me. I’m skipping that. Forever.
What about books that fall outside of what we, right now, consider to be the high school English class classics? Do you read all of your books with a critical eye, or do you just read for enjoyment? Or do you think that deep and critical reading of all books is part of the enjoyment?
I really want to know your honest answers. Don’t pretend, because I’m past the point in life where I’m impressed by intellectualism, pseudo- or realdo-. I’m more impressed with people who can read an entire book in a reasonable number of days and also keep the dog hair tumbleweeds under control and wash the stank off their gross baby once in a while. I am not that person. That is the person who impresses me. So you don’t have to feel like you need to be impressive in the comments.
I do want to know, though. Do you make a place for deep/critical reading and examination of texts for all the literary businessy things in your everyday reading, out of school? To all books or just “classics?” (I use quotes because I suppose it is hard to predict right now what exactly will be the “classics” of the future, and you could be reading one and not know it, so we’ll just go with “classics,” as defined by high school summer reading lists.) Or do you read just for pleasure? OR? Is a deep reading a part of the pleasure of reading for you?
I enjoy reading. I do it a lot. When Phil comes home for lunch, I always want to run and take a shower (see above re: gross baby stank), and I take a book with me. Into the shower. Not into the bathroom. Into the SHOWER. And that’s about the only time I get to read right now. But I do enjoy it. But are you enjoying it more? Or did you leave behind the critical reading practices when you turned in your final essay?
(Related but not related to my questions, I have always been impressed (well, throughout the life of the Vlogbrothers YouTube career) by their – specifically John Green’s – belief in young adults. Both in general – to do big things, impressive things, and world-changing things – and specifically – to read tough books deeply and critically, to understand them on a level that most adults do not, and to enjoy learning how to read deeply and critically despite those who might not have faith in the ability of young people to do that. If you know a young person who is not involved in this community, I highly encourage you to encourage them, because it’s something I enjoy now, as an adult, and can only imagine the difference it probably would have made in my life as a teenager.)