Being a Reader

If you’re new to this blog and/or haven’t read my “About the LQ” page yet, you don’t know that I pay the bills by teaching community college students how to write essays and, every once in a while, how to read Literature (that’s right — with a capital “L”).

I even have three degrees, obviously attesting to my passion for reading and writing.  I mean, who else but an ENGLISH MAJOR would spend thirteen years in voluntary poverty, just so she can read Literature and write literary analyses, over and over and over again?

So the irony is this:  The older I get, the less likely will you find me reading Literature –heck, even a pulp novel — for fun, which would surprise not only my students and fellow English professors, but also my family, given my past history with reading novels.

When I was in elementary school,  I went through a phase of reading a couple of series that were complete opposites: The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and The Three Investigators series, by Robert Arthur.  I read every single copy of each in the school library of New Piti Elementary School (back on Guam).  If fact, my mom could drop me off at the bookstore in the Navy Exchange on base (i.e. Naval Station Guam), and she could shop with assurance that I would still be there, reading copies of The Three Investigators that my school didn’t have.

Around age ten, I discovered C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and read all seven volumes in it.  This series was what introduced me to science fiction and fantasy, but only what I found in the school library, as my family had to be careful with money in those days.  So instead of  J.R.R. Tolkein, I gobbled up Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain and the Westmark trilogy, Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series (I even used the Christmas money my mom gave me to buy my own copy of that series), and anything by William Sleator.

I came of age in the 1980’s, when the “problem novel” for the YA novel was big — Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, anyone? — so I read lots of Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Paul Zindel, and M.E. Kerr, in addition to the authors mentioned above. I was a very introverted, geeky middle-schooler, checking out a book from the school library in the morning, reading it between classes (and during classes when I was bored in class because I was finished with the classwork AND the homework), and returning the book by the end of the school day… just to check out another book for home.

Not surprisingly, by the time I was in high school, I would skip lunch (to avoid the lunchtime fights between the whites, blacks, and Hispanics in my public school) and retreat to the upstairs library. I guess you could say I ate books for lunch.  It was there that I “graduated” to more adult fare and obsessively read my favorite authors: Douglas Adams, Tom Clancy, Robert Heinlein.

School was school, and I read everything — and I do mean EVERYTHING — that my teachers required me to read, even the daunting reading list in a Great Books school like the University of Dallas.  Going for my BA, MA, and PhD left very little time for me to read for pleasure, so I became very selective: Tolkein got me through my MA schooling, while J.K. Rowling and Ursula LeGuin became my go-to authors when I needed a break from Dante, Shakespeare, and even my gal Flannery O’Connor (the focus of my dissertation).

By this time, I was also teaching freshman Comp to community college students while being a doctoral student.  So my professional reading fell to two extremes: the best of the best in the Great Books canon vs. the worst of the worst in community college essays.

There were days when I felt rather bipolar in my required reading.

So, when I finally donned the Velvet Extravaganza of my doctoral robes exactly four years ago, May 2006, I thought I would have all of this free time to return to leisure novel-reading.

That hasn’t happened. I mean, I still read — LOTS — but I find myself reading for work, and the book-length stuff isn’t even fiction:  Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Chris Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic, Greg Mortinson’s Three Cups of Tea — these are all non-fiction, for my classes.

I think I may have burned myself out on the novel, which explains — now that I come to think of it — why I can’t write a novel.  I neither have the patience these days to read nor write the novel form.  I read blogs, news articles, Facebook updates, Tweets, poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction, comics…

…but not novels.

Maybe — just maybe — I need to return to the YA novel, where the exposition is less long-winded and bloated, the action is episodic, and the dialogue is as to the point as one can get.

I think I just talked myself into buying (or, at least checking out) a YA novel recently published from an old college friend.  🙂

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This entry was posted in AVOCATIONS, Creative Writing, EDUCATION, Learning, Reading, Teaching, The Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Being a Reader

  1. lizardqueen says:

    Hey, Jim, thanks for the hat tip — I’ll check out that book. 🙂

  2. Jim says:

    That’s interesting. The older I get the more novels I have been reading. Of course I was always reading comics, but had got out of the novel habit for several years after undergrad and through grad school, but started reading again when I wanted to see what all the Harry Potter/LOTR fuss was about. I find it a nice form of decompression from the constant stimulus of facebook, e-mail, texting, etc.

    Glad to see you’re a Heinlein fan…I am working my way through his and Phillip K. Dick’s catalogs at the moment and just finished a good book called “The Outlaws of Sherwood”, by Robin McKinney, a slightly different take on the Robin Hood Mythology. I think you would like it.

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