Sunday, June 5, 2011

When it's nice to be wrong

     It took me a long time to realize that I love reading and am not bad at it. My sisters both are the type to read super fast and would read all the time as young kids. It made me feel dumb in comparison because I am naturally a slower reader so the whole process became a chore. Instead of trying to improve, I decided that I hated reading in the first place and reading was lame. With that belief in place, people who were good readers weren’t a threat to me anymore. That’s sound logic, right? Plus, I don’t know—it was really hard for me to get into books. The teen novels all of my friends were reading just seemed SO lame when I tried to read them too; so I just decided that reading wasn’t my thing and didn’t really pay any attention to it until I was a junior in high school.
      I hadn’t ever been too into the many fantasy books that my friends read because they weren’t grounded enough for me. It was too easy to just make something convenient happen due to “magic” to resolve an issue in the plot. I don’t know, too many loopholes for my brain to be really satisfied. Then I read The Lord of the Rings when I was 16 for the first time and I was just blown away. I seriously just immersed myself in those books for a few years. What made Tolkien’s work so different is that he created a real world that spanned ages of time. The magic involved wasn’t ever a “point your wand and something random happens” type of magic, but more of an understanding of the true nature of things and being able to manipulate it to your will. Something about it just really suited me in a way no other fantasy book had. I didn’t just read them, I STUDIED them. I wrote cross-references on pages, memorized ancestral lines, analyzed Tolkien theology—it was intense.
     I took a class on Tolkien in college and learned that his writing was a result of his love of being a linguist. He had created multiple, full languages just for fun and then became so attached to the languages that he invented people who would have spoken them. That is how Middle Earth was created. Tolkien was just so attached to that world, it obviously consumed him. I’m sure it would have been horribly annoying for his poor wife to hear about it and lose him to it often, but as a reader I will forever be appreciative. I think my favorite thing about him was how every single character in his books has a thousand-year-old history and ancestry behind them. Even many sub-characters have ancestry and purpose that arcs back over ages of time. How could you not enjoy a world that is so delicately crafted?!
     LOTR and the Hobbit don’t stand on their own though, you have to read and study the Silmarillion and the Lost Tales and some other books that fill in the gaps. For instance, why Eagles helped sometimes and not others, just what happened and what it meant for Gandalf to come back from having fallen, and the true nature and purpose of each of the races. Seriously, Tolkien took EVERYTHING into account when he wrote. I might even write about my theories and discoveries on some of these topics at a later time on this blog; they are really just too fun to get into.
     As my reading maturity progressed though, I started to realize that though Tolkien is an amazing story-teller and creator, he isn’t really my favorite author. His poetry is really weak and his actual writing is lacking in ways. That doesn’t mean his books aren’t amazing, they are! But Tolkien was left in the dust when I got into college and started reading the classics.
I LOVED a big fat, thick, wordy book. I just lapped up books by Dickens, Hugo, Dumas, Dostoevsky, or Steinbeck (to name only a few). There was just SO much there to appreciate, think about, and sink my brain into. Don’t even get me started on poetic writing like Edgar Allan Poe or Milton. I could go on for days! I tried a few contemporary books but they still just weren’t for me! They didn’t hold my attention, they didn’t grab me, they simply weren’t enough food for thought. I was too happy immersing myself in canonical literature to even consider any other type of reading as having merit. If it wasn’t a book that you could analyze for days on end, then it simply wasn’t worth reading.
     Aside from my English classes, most everyone else really wasn’t into the type of books I loved. What were they all reading? Harry Potter.
     Harry Potter had really started to gain momentum as a series in my early college days. This really frustrated me. I really wanted someone to whom I could talk about the intricacies of characters and subplots in A Tale of Two Cities, but all anyone would talk about was Harry Potter. I wanted to know what all the hype was, so I read the first book (only a few had been published at that time) and watched the movie and I just didn’t see the appeal. Honestly, I thought it was stupid. Many people were comparing it to LOTR and that offended me. Harry Potter doesn’t even compare as literature… it’s an apples and oranges scenario. To me, Tolkien was for an adult audience and Rowling was for tweens. Yes, they both have wizards—but that is the only similarity between the two. I don't know, from there on out I just wouldn't even give Harry Potter a chance and kind of thought that HP fans needed to up their reading level a few pars.
     During college, I kind of got into heavy reading overload though. When I graduated, it was kind of a nice feeling to not have to concentrate so hard on reading anymore or have to keep up with the insane amounts of reading homework that come with a college education; especially as an English major.
     The summer after I graduated, we went to Houston for an internship with ExxonMobil. Sam was working every day and I was writing full-time from our apartment there for Testout. My workdays weren’t as long as Sam’s, so I had plenty of time to myself. I mostly worked out or laid by the pool. The final Harry Potter book had come out that summer and everyone was all a twitter about it and that annoyed me. Those silly HP books, I mean really. I decided that the only way I could truly go about making fun of HP fans properly was to read the whole series. I had plenty of downtime and they were easy reads so I’d have nothing to lose.
     I read one and two rather quickly and thought they were fun, but still held my ground that HP was kind of stupid as a whole and definitely not for adults. Book three is when I started to be humbled though and admit that I was kind of into it. Book four was a really fun read with the tri-wizard cup and whatnot. By book six, I found myself fully-engaged and LOVING the books. Book seven? I was totally crying my eyes out in multiple parts and by the end of the book I was just so sad that there would be no more Harry Potter to read. I have been changed as a reader ever since.
     I haven’t read a classic book since then aside from Les Miserable for a re-read. Even though that’s one of my favorite books of all time, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I once had. It was like my eyes had changed and become more less romanced by the heavy wording, I don’t know. I even found myself less-inclined to reread LOTR, and stopped my annual reading of it nearly 6 years ago. You know what I have read yearly for the last 5 years though? Harry Potter.
     I absolutely adore Hogwarts. I want so badly to go to a school with 4 different competing houses within it, and try to win the house cup every year. Schools these days are so worried about offending the losers that they never do anything fun that people can win at anymore. Hogwarts just seems like the most fun a kid could have.
     I really enjoy the characters in those books; I love Hagrid and Ron the most I think. The characters in that world are just so accessible to read and enjoy, I get sucked right in.
     Are the Harry Potter books flawless? Oh my goodness no! There are loopholes left and right not only in the magic but in the actual story (and don’t get me started on how lame quidditch is). I find myself not caring though. I love it all the same and will always be happy to reread the series. Those characters and that world are good friends to me that will always be welcomed.
     Once I admitted that the my days of book snobbery had ended, that opened the door to a whole trove of contemporary book-reading; something I had never enjoyed in the past. Some gems that came out of this opened door were the Hunger Games, the Dan Brown books, the Twilight Series, the Immortal Instruments, and Water for Elephants. Each of those is a book or series that I probably would have thought beneath my reading sphere in the past, but now they are what I love to read. They aren’t all fabulous pieces of literature, but they were FUN to read, and I’m glad that I can appreciate that now.


Rebecca said...

I am way behind on blogs lately, so I'm just now reading this post. I totally hear you about heavy stuff versus fun reads. I have been reading a lot more lately, and while I appreciate novels with beautiful language and deep meaning, nothing compares to a good, fun read.

merrilykaroly said...

Have you ever read Vanity Fair? I really enjoyed that. I was into Dickens for a while, and looking for other classics to read but got sooo weighed down by Moby Dick and didn't finish it. What are like your top 5 classic faves?