Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Literature is for Smarty Pants, Like Me

I'm joking of course. I want to write about this because I just read a brilliant collection of essays by Nick Hornby called The Polysllabic Spree. (High Fidelity, How to be Good, A Long Way Down, About A Boy) Go get it now. Go read it. Each one covers a month of his life in terms of what books he's bought and which he has actually read. He's a riot, even if you don't get all the references. And trust me, I don't. That's hard for me to admit. I like my title (self assigned) of being "well-read". I hide behind it like it's a talent or character trait of worth. It is neither.
Now, I love to read. A few years back I gave myself a challenge to read as many classics as possible. I think I am doing fairly well. So his book spoke to me. It is interesting to note (Oh, it's not? Dang it.) how we often measure our self worth with what or how much we've read. I was making the point to a friend recently that I think that people often claim an author is their favorite, not because of the books they wrote, but simply because they read them. Was Dumas really the man that understands your soul and puts it on paper? Or are you just so stoked to have finished one of his lengthy tomes? I know this feeling. When I have just finished a long novel written a good one hundred and fifty years or more before I was born, I feel ecstatic. I want to brag and tell everyone I know. That what? I read a book? This should be a given. If you run a marathon or get a big promotion or even bake some muffins you get praise and recognition. But reading? When I crow to my roommates that I just finished The Sound And The Fury (this is fictional, it's still on my to do list) or something comparable, they look at me with blank stares or worse... the "oh yeah, I read that in high school". The dreaded phrase. Dun dun dunnnnn.
This is why my task is so fruitless and frustrating. Have you ever glanced at the recommended reading list in the back of a Penguin Classic? There are usually 100 books listed of which I have read seven. And I thought I was doing so well! No one cares if you've read Madame Bovary (overrated) or Crime and Punishment if they have read The Complete and Unabridged Works of some random Peruvian Nobel Prize winning biographer of authors more obscure and foreign than he. It becomes about one-upmanship. The deeper you get, the more you realize that you will never win, and the more you want to.
Now this gets dangerous. As I have been guilty of using this as a social weapon. I have a friend who is publicly lauded as prettier, friendlier, and more talented in every field imaginable. I think we all have one of these friends. I get so bothered at being compared to her in areas I never wanted to dabble in, let alone conquer, that I build up my arsenal where she cannot touch me. Literature.
Side note. This often happens in families. The oldest son is a football star, so the next son will choose baseball. Big sister is a ballerina so younger sister will be an artist, like Amy.
With friends you often have the exact same interests, it's why you are friends in the first place. And everyone knows that your best friends are your biggest competition. And at a party where you are competing for the same four loser boys, or a parents house of one of said boys, you must assert your superiority.
Now, mystery friend does not need to assert her superiority, it is always done for her. And then the collective mass of people turn to me for either confirmation of her miracle talents or to ask how I fair in the same stupid field. Fun fun. So forgive me when I occasionally sneak in the occasional reference to a book that will make her look "less", or prove one of three things.
1- I am not in college, nor have I finished college. Yet I am not a Jerry Springer loving loser. I read Books! (capital B!) Big Books! Ones that don't get read anymore. I am a thinker. Yay me! Love me! Please love me!
2- She has not read these books. Nor will she ever, and if pressed, she will admit as much. She could not even if she had the time. They would go over her pretty little head. Not really. I am just being petty now.
3- Reading is better than (insert random humanities subject here). It is lasting and worthy and a noble pastime. I will have children that will save countries and cure diseases because their mother was a reader!
We can hope. Yes this turned into a tirade about the contest that is being a single female. See Queen Bees and Wannabees for more. Or just rent Mean Girls. Or buy it, cause it's freaking hilarious and true. And admitting as much has just negated all of the Dickens I was hoping to barter with at my next party.


Kirsten J said...

You aren't "well read?"

Yes-huh. A friend of mine (I'll pronounce it Gay-Org, for anonymity) mentioned to me the other day that he wanted to set someone up with you because you're cute and well-read. It was out of the blue and totally unrelated to this current issue, which makes this all the more pleasing. I of course told him he could try but I actually have my eye on someone else for you. I'll manipulate and meddle till I get my way, too.

And who's this "Amy" that does art? Is that a reference to Little Women? I hope you're not trying to sound brainy because Little Women was an easy read surrounded with criticism and controversy. (Or some other hopeless flagging slam that doesn't hold water...anything that someone who only watched the movie but claims to have read the book would say in an attempt to belittle someone else).

What can I say? You're the best! Thanks for this rewarding and redeeming post. Hope Ayahm (for short) will stumble upon it while Googling the word Dumas.

Sorry to all other readers for the shameless inside jokes. They're really not all that tough to crack though, so have fun wading through all the venom.

Adam said...

I've yet to meet a friend of yours that's prettier or more talented than you.

Synergy said...

Oh Adam. You are the best. My favorite Adam ever, yep, more than the first one even. I mean, he's important and stuff, but he doesn't comment on my blog, like, ever!

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