A few weeks ago I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book I never thought I would read. Every time I have tried to start it, it always seemed such a ponderous undertaking. This last time I stuck with it and am very much the better person for doing so. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is an elegant account of yet another challenging chapter for women with the most insidious aspect is that this was considered a “civilized” time where organized discrimination, subjugation and intolerance for an intellectual woman that challenges the first two.
Since I began my shift from seeing from a masculine POV to my current APOV, I have been more and more drawn to books. I would not say that my penchant for books has anything to do with estrogen but rather a desire to comprehend things rather than just apprehend them. Especially about women because I did not grow up as a girl and then live as a young woman then become a woman. I have a lot of catching up to do.
Reading was always a challenge for me when I was a child. The only “book” I would read were comic “books”. I didn’t really care for the Action or Marvel comics. Scrooge McDuck was my favorite. The Action Comics about Superman and his co-horts and the fact that no one could ever recognize him. C’mon. My whole family wore glasses and when we took them off we could all recognize one another. Although our glasses were off so maybe that’s not a good example but glasses don’t change a person that much. All these super heroes who were actually aliens (REAL ALIENS WHO JUST HAPPEN TO LOOK WHITE AMERICANS) with their super powers didn’t really exist. The Capitalist extraordinaire Scrooge McDuck and his OCD nephews were just more… uh …real. I read Scrooge McDuck obsessively as a child. The new ones never came out fast enough for me. I ran through Haag’s Drugs toward the revolving rack to find the latest adventures of Scrooge McDuck. He was my guy or duck.
It’s just what I read was not considered “reading” by the Washington Township School System of Indianapolis. One reason I didn’t read books is because I never read very fast. When I read a comic book I read every word and studied every frame. When I was tested with the reading machine I was always the last one left in the room because I was so slow.
You know the reading machine. This humped over projector that would isolate a few words at a time and skim across a story projected on a screen and you as class had to read the words and put the story together in your mind. The thinking being was that was the way we all started reading was one word and then the next until we were putting several words together and then sentences and paragraphs until I guess you could look at the cover of a book and absorb it all in seconds.
Regardless I had great difficulty with the machine. They started the machine real slow and as you read faster you were taken to another room where they, I’m presuming here, kept pushing the speed faster and faster. I say presuming because I never left the room. Once everyone else was gone, they reduced the speed so I get through a page while my other room classmates were reading chapters. I was left in the room alone with just the projector as my “friend”. There was this one kid in the back but he really didn’t count. His chair was turned around and he was reading the cement wall.
Therefore at school, reading was humiliating for me. Because I didn’t read conventionally when I was in middle or junior high school for me, I was “placed” in special reading classes. As a student, I avoided reading. This forbearance continued into my adulthood and college. By that time I was reading something other than Scrooge. I was reading plays.
I enjoyed them. I could see them as I read them. That was the number one complaint that I would get from my friends when I recommended a play to read. They felt plays were dull and didn’t give you enough information just a lot of “stage” direction. Of course for me that lived in a fantasy world most of the time it was like getting rules for the game. I loved the description or even better no description of the setting and then just dialogue and entrances, exits and a little stage direction. You could imagine what it looked like if it wasn’t explicit by reading the dialogue of the characters. If it was Tennessee Williams he wrote detailed stage direction and so did Eugene O’Neil whereas playwrights like Harold Pinter and Edward Albee gave almost no stage direction. Over the centuries playwrights would go from extreme to the other.
How I got through college and graduate school and received multiple degrees is that I did just enough if I didn’t like the subject. When I loved the subject I excelled more than most of my fellow students and yes then I read. My focus was theatre which involved reading plays so I was in great shape. But I never read for pleasure. That didn’t make sense to me. Lose yourself in a good book I was told all my life. I just couldn’t. Lose myself in a film or even a TV show or a great sporting event sure I could understand that but a book?
As an adult I read a lot of news magazines. After a while, I settled on one publication that I would consume from cover to cover. This routine went on for over a decade or more. It was the Smithsonian Magazine which was and is an eclectic assemblage of reportage and good old fashioned story-telling. Diverse subject matters that were often more cutting edge than Mother Jones and better researched. The articles were always told from the writer’s perspective which was as eclectic and as diverse as the subjects. I consider those years, my late twenties to early forties, my formative years where I developed a great appreciation for a story told well and with just the right touch of elegance. I was learning how to read with discipline albeit twenty some odd years late but I was learning fast.
The turning point for me was right after my heart attack and it was one set of books that opened my world to reading books. Pillars of the Earth and then World Without End are two of the best books I’ve ever read and might be one of the most thrilling experiences I have ever had. I got lost in those books. They became an immersive experience which is something I needed as I was recovering. I’ve been able to lose myself in books ever since.
Now I’ve read hundreds of books since then and find magazine articles sometimes interesting but very unfulfilling. Give me a good long book and I’m happy for a couple of weeks. We have a Kindle and our shared devices are our daughter’s IPad and my Android Smartphone. It’s not bad riding the bus when you have a story that can remove you from the misery that is Metro.
Tonight I’m reading a new book for me but a classic to everyone - Miss Austen's Emma. Over these last few years reading has become a self solicitude for my hyperactive mind. I make it the last routine I do at night so that as I drift off I’m thinking about Emma and whether or not Mr. Elton who has the most agreeable looks will finally propose his obvious love to Harriet. It does concern me but in a gentle way. It gives my mind refuge as it rests.
Now because of my health I have to fall asleep in a lazy-boy chair and not in bed. I wake up a few hours later and the Kindle is in my hand and I decide if I need to read some more or if I can finally put the device down and join my wife in bed. It is a time I cherish because I am not in a state of agitation as I am sometimes during the day which my blog often reflects. I am calm as I lie down knowing that whenever I feel that the world is too much I can turn to a book. If we read, I think we have a chance.