That recurring dream of being back in high school? Doesn’t have to be a nightmare
Don't blame the books for your traumatic memories of 10th grade!
Over the past year or so, I’ve reread four or five books that I at one point read grudgingly and with heightened suspicion back in high school. I know, I know. It almost seems like a waste. We’re all trying to machete through the Modern Library-type “100 Best Books” jungle, and those members of the high school canon, despite having suffered the diminishing returns of our aging and overstuffed minds, are reliable hackaways. Freebies, if you will. Yes, I’ve read that one. Check! But returning to The Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary, The Bell Jar, and, most recently To Kill a Mockingbird (this year’s One Book, One Denver selection) has taught me a few things:
I have an absolutely terrible memory. Sieve-like! I didn’t even remember the murder at the end of Gatsby, let alone Scout’s pitch-perfect voice: “Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.” (Imagine: when you first read To Kill a Mockingbird, you didn’t likely know that the character of Dill was based on Truman Capote, and you didn’t picture a miniature Philip Seymour Hoffman as you read.)
Tell me that's not Dill twenty years after To Kill a Mockingbird!
Reading as a writer is not the same sport as reading as a put-upon teenager. Despite his plot’s semi-degeneration into what might be termed (today) a series of melodramatic conniptions, Flaubert captured a thing of perfect narrative beauty in Emma Bovary’s journey from bored doctor’s wife to vampy suicidal vixen. Okay, that’s not a very literary interpretation (send hate mail directly here
), but it puts you on notice: stuff should happen in fiction. Especially crazy stuff! Take note you moderates (she said to herself).
- It takes hardly any time to re-read most books. The effort should not derail your attempt to get through the aforementioned “100 best*” list. It will take mere moments for you to plummet back into the bell jar, for example, and wonder how you ever deluded yourself into thinking you were sane. Those second reads are quick and centering, somehow. Am I wrong?
Be sure to join William Haywood Henderson this Saturday for our Writer’s Buzz: Write Your First Novel workshop, Saturday, September 12, 10 AM to noon, Highlands Rec Center (2880 Osceola St.)
*But please try to replace and rescramble the official list with your own completely random list, like this one that keeps cropping up everywhere.