Another Crack at the Classics

I’m similar to a lot of people in that I didn’t like the books I was forced to read in school. Some people loved the assigned reading, and probably had a one-up on the rest of us, but most people I knew didn’t care much for any of the books. This included Great Expectations, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, Macbeth, and A Farewell to Arms, among many others I can’t remember. I hated almost all of the books I was forced to read and was told were classics. As I got older, I realized a lot of my hate had to do with my issues with authority/being told what to do, and my general distaste for school at the time. Nowadays, I read a lot on my own. I’ve read a fair number of books over the last handful of years but most are contemporary. John Kennedy Toole and Kurt Vonnegut are some favorites from the mid/late-twentieth century, and I’ve read, and enjoyed, a smattering of Sinclair, Kerouac, Burroughs, and Bukowski. But I haven’t really ever dug into any classics that I might have missed when I was too moody and stupid to read, like Mark Twain or Walt Whitman or James Joyce.

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With that in mind I picked up William Faulker. Not only is he considered an all-time great, I saw that he had a stream of consciousness style that I might recognize from the Beat writers (and more contemporary writers like Tao Lin). I got possibly his best known and most celebrated work The Sound and The Fury*. Around 250 pages in, with 70 pages to go, I put it down for good. For the first 50 or so pages, I tried to like it. I looked over the little gripes I had right off the bat. I tried to enjoy the way it was written, find the positive and interesting aspects of the characters. But after the first section, I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities. Not to say it’s a bad book or poorly written. I’ve read books that were plain bad, and this isn’t one of them. But it didn’t connect with me on any level. It’s not that I have to recognize my life perfectly reflected in a book, but I think I do need to recognize the thoughts and motivations behind whatever actions are being played out in the story. I need to understand the people to some degree and I did not understand anyone in the book, at all.

Reading a book you don’t enjoy is a lot worse than watching a bad movie or tv show, or listening to bad music. With all of those, you can tune out when you want a break from the bad sound, acting, or writing. You can wash the dishes or surf the internet while that nonsense goes on in the background. With books, however, you are immersed. And you need to be immersed or you won’t get the most enjoyment out of reading. That’s why, even though I try to finish books when I start them, I decided not to push through with The Sound And The Fury. And I want to avoid that terrible reading experience in the future.

I don’t know how to shift through the books that, for one reason or another, simply don’t appeal to me. Faulker seemed like safe bet. Coming away this disappointed makes me hesitant to pick up another classic, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on the Upton Sinclair level of amazing novel.

I’m thinking I should try again. Maybe pick up a Nabokov or something. I did like Death of  Salesman and some of the classic science fiction (though that can get very gimmicky, childish, and boring).

It appears that I’m asking for recommendations. Any classic literature (defined however you like, from American twentieth century classics to Edgar Allen Poe to anything else) you would recommend? I’m interested in more options based on personal interest and not a “best of” list on the internet.

Thanks for taking the time.

 

 

*Not that these things are gospel but The Sound And The Fury was ranked #6 on modernlibrary.com’s 100 Best Novels.

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Another Crack at the Classics

Some Things Are Truly Terrifying

Yesterday, I was working outside for around 5 hours in 90 degree heat. It was relatively strenuous work and I started feeling it pretty quickly. Long story short, I almost passed out and was completely wrecked at the end of the day. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got home, realized my vision was blurry, picked up my cell phone and noticed how much I was shaking. My body was giving out on me. It makes you freak out a bit when you can’t control yourself. This is a theme I return to a lot, I suppose. It’s probably the thing that scares me the most. I have a hard time imagining that no matter how much I try, I can’t do anything about what’s happening to me.

Someone I know was recently hit by a car. I don’t want to go into all the details, but he was crossing the street, a pick-up truck going around 30 mph hit him and flung him across the intersection. I don’t know the person super well so I don’t need any condolences or anything like that. I appreciate the intention, but I don’t need it, he does. Anyway. He’s been in the hospital for a week and three days now. They’ve kept him almost entirely sedated. He’s on the hospital bed, physically there, but completely out of control. Whether he lived or died depended (and still depends) entirely on the doctors and nurses. No matter how much he wants to live. No how much fight is in him. He can’t control the fact that his lungs are filling with fluid. He can’t stop it from happening again and again after they drain them. And the fact that they need to drain so the doctors can operate on his shattered pelvis before the bones start to fuse and an operation won’t help him, doesn’t matter. He can’t do a thing about it.

We don’t experience that very frequently. We aren’t often exposed to our limitations. We aren’t often shown the parts of our experiences that we can’t do anything about. How many times have you stared at your leg wishing it would move but it wouldn’t? I’ve hurt myself a million different ways but almost none of them have really crippled me to that degree. I could move my broken arm. I could walk on my turned ankle, even though I had to limp. My knee injuries and muscle tears all hurt and slowed me down. But truly feeling powerless is rare. Most people aren’t paralyzed. Physically or mentally. Not being able to wake up is horrifying.  Not being able to force your body to move in order to reach safety. Not being able to do something you need to do is taking away what we feel makes us “us.”

 

I get upset when people talk about setting your mind to something, or the power of positive thinking. This idea, that a lot of people have, that if you believe in something enough, it will happen. It’s such a disgusting thing to suggest. As if every single hardship a person faces is his or her fault. Homeless? You were too negative. Your mother died young? She didn’t visualize life hard enough. Your business failed? You didn’t see success in your mind’s eye. What a horrible way to think. Not only that but just patently untrue. I’m sorry for ranting about such a ridiculous topic. I usually try to be more reasonable but I fail occasionally.

Some Things Are Truly Terrifying

Feminism and Anger

Today, I finished reading a book called Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion by Carol Tavris, and while I don’t want to give it an in-depth review, there was one part toward the end that I thought is pretty relevant. She was talking about feminism and why so many people will support the goals of feminists but distance themselves from the label. As she says in the passage, “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” The key part to realize about this book is that it was published in 1982. It’s almost shocking how long these silly debates are drawn out. The following passage could be perfectly applied to the world today.

“Sociologist Beth Schneider has been trying to find out why feminism connotes “anger, militance, and lesbianism,” and why so many women support feminist goals but are reluctant to call themselves feminists. Schneider collected impressions of feminism from a diverse group of women, ages nineteen to sixty-six. The women’s hostility was almost entirely directed at what they regarded as feminists’ deviance in the private sphere of relationships, in the basic  definitions and activities of “normal” womanhood – sexuality, maternity, and personality traits (nurturance, warmth, nonagressive-ness). Thus, although most of Schneider’s group agreed that feminists are doing good things to improve the status of women, many also regarded feminists as being tough, aggressive, unattractive, and hostile – i.e., “afraid of being a woman.” Feminists are often assumed to be sexually deviant too: If they aren’t lesbians, they are “frigid” or “oversexed” heterosexuals.
The disclaimer “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” allows women to endorse safe general policies, without being condemned by others for violating traditional standards of femininity. It is safe to endorse the practical, and now mainstream, goals of the women’s movement, such as equal pay, fair promotions, and rape centers. It is less safe to question the “personal,” traditional requirements of the female role. The goals is equality, without being thought unladylike while pursuing it.”

It’s frustrating how something so unimportant causes such hangups. It’s all about how other people view a word that has people who generally agree with “feminist”/humanist ideas qualify every statement by distancing themselves from the broad group label. I know labels aren’t really important and we shouldn’t try define people with simplistic terms. But the trouble is labels are important in some respects. People have to organize to be heard. Numbers may not be important in daily life but they are when voting.

Sidetracked…

This is part of the reason I always loved the idea of punk rock. It, possibly more than any other music, encourages people to be angry. But not just for the sake of it. It encourages us to care about the injustices occurring all over the world. To notice when we are being sold something, a product or an idea, that we don’t need and to say something about it. Not to simply accept any thing because we think we should accept it. While it fans the flames of the anger we feel, and act on it, it also gives us permission to feel that way no matter what that might entail. It delivers on social issues (mostly rights of minority groups, anti-war, and consumerism) and says don’t worry about what other people might say to squash your outrage. Don’t be pacified.

Another of the aspects of punk rock, and its offshoots, I appreciated was the diversity. There were punks who looked like punks but there were also punks who looked like nerds and punks who looked like preppy kids, and punks who looked like lumberjacks, and punks who looked like normal people, and punks who looked like the sad kid sitting off by him/herself. Sure, I’ve seen my fair share of dyed mohawks and homemade jean shorts, but I’ve seen just as much short hair and button up dress shirts. While a lot of the kids didn’t look the same, what they did share was the feeling of punk rock. The idea of it. The isolation, the anger, the fear. Everything. Everyone else looks like they have life pretty well figured out (until we learn most of them are simply better actors) while our insecurities are palpable. It’s this music that told us that our anger and uncertainties are okay. That there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be angry and that if other people look down on us for that, that’s just how it goes. But we aren’t wrong. Maybe they are. Maybe no one is. But we aren’t wrong to be angry.

Feminism and Anger

What College is Good For

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Wasting paper

I’ve been going through all the notebooks that I’ve been storing for no good reason. The notebooks in the picture are the ones I’m getting rid of and there’s a stack at least equally as high that I’ll be keeping. The books are actually only my Chemistry books (Intro chem are the bottom two, then ochem, and biochem with a solutions manual in there somewhere). I didn’t feel like pulling the rest out and adding them to the pile, they’re way too heavy.

I’m fairly certain I haven’t even found all my notebooks, yet. I also was environmentally conscious so there are three or four courses in most of the notebooks. No page was left blank. If I had any space, I’d use it for a practice problem or a discussion lecture. Or maybe for notes in a lab. There is writing up the side of half the pages. There are random comments, “important” reminders and all kinds of nonsensical things shoved in the blank spaces.

That’s a heck of a lot of paper, though. And keep in mind all the lab work I turned in and never got back, all the assignments, all the calc. problems that were handed in. This stack is easily quadrupled if I had the majority of my papers back.

I wish I could keep more of the notes but out of context, they aren’t helpful. I looked through some of the physics lectures and since each lecture built on the previous one, it’s almost indecipherable. The calculus was more recognizable so I got to keep that. Then all the random classes I took. Natural Disasters. Dinosaurs. Ecology. Neural Mechanisms of Animal Behavior. Paleoclimates. Invertebrate History. On and on and on. No wonder my unit count was ridiculous and got me in trouble.

I guess it was worth it. I enjoyed most of my classes and could have spent my time doing worse things… like taking English classes. HEY-O!

What College is Good For

Lonely

I’ve unfortunately, and obviously if you’ve read anything I’ve posted lately, been pretty down. I had a bad couple days earlier this week. Bad in the sense that I felt out of control. I felt I had no say in how I was feeling or what I was thinking. The lack of control was spiraling. I kept following it and fighting it sending me more and more into the grip of helplessness. It’s basically the opposite of what I usually do. I usually try to step back for a moment and calm down. Let the experience wash over me and observe it. Almost remove myself from it but also allow it to happen and allow myself to feel whatever it is I’m feeling. For some reason, I fought against it this time. Maybe low was lower than usual and that triggered a response. Or maybe I was less prepared. Maybe I panicked.

A few days removed and I feel I’m still recovering. I don’t have a proper outlet (besides writing). I don’t have a person to talk to about most of these things. That isn’t a huge issue for me because I don’t normally have the desire to talk about these moments. What I think I am missing is a regular conversation partner. I spend so much time in my own world. Not some fantasy world I’ve created, but just the things I’m interested in. I’ve read something like 20 books on happiness, behavior, anger, heuristics, and other topics relating to psychology/philosophy/neuroscience of well-being. Just so no one thinks I’m reading all this stuff for guidance, I’m actually interested in studying it. It’s basically self-assigned homework. But when I’m completely immersed in this theoretical world, I am, unconsciously, removing myself from other people.

Time has cost me many friends. We grew up and there was nothing we could do about it. So the people closest to me. The ones who not only understood me the most, but were always around for the boring, day-to-day stuff are mostly gone.

We are social animals. I’m missing a big part of being alive.

Lonely

I’m Getting Better

I’m trying to be honest enough to say I am quite sad

That’s hard to admit after years of feeling better and riding the lows

It’s like returning to kindergarten after graduation

I guess I’m still working toward college

And I can’t yet imagine what it’d take for a PhD

Because there are no markers like that here

You can always return to zero

If anything, the mountain grows

I’m trying to convince myself it’s brief

And I’ll be ready again soon

 

There’s no moment that switches my brain to where it’s no longer okay to be alone

Somehow it picks up a strength all at once

Loneliness is bigger than I am

Do you ever think about which definition of tired is the most important?

I’m Getting Better

I Want to Stop

Everything feels like it lacks meaning

What am I doing?

I’ve been listening to the same sounds for years

And wearing the same clothes

The same mind keeps trying to create an escape

It’s incredible how weak everything is

How unstable

I marvel at all the ways I can destroy myself

And the effort it requires to thrive

The world has survived greater losses

I hate to admit the extent of my lethargy

That there is a level of exertion that is beyond me

But you become fearless

There’s no distinguishing between good and bad

The outcomes add up to the same number

Everything is missing

I Want to Stop