Friday, June 3, 2011

Finding My Way to Shakespeare

I'm a snob. I have to admit that. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right? Well, I have a problem. I am a book snob. I blame it on my degree. Majoring in literature will make you a book snob. At least it did for me. The funny thing is, I never realized it until today. Because when you are a lesser snob among snobs you don't realize it's happening. At BGSU everyone's into postmodern or modern literature, they look down their noses at fluff that I love like Anne of Green Gables or A Little Princess. Fluff! Doesn't belong on the canon, any canon. Fluff and nonsense. You know, because James Joyce's Ulysses makes perfect sense...*heavy sarcasm*

But I am a book snob. I have turned my back on my roots and denied my past. The fact is what made me fall in love reading, with books, and ultimately with "literature" (* heavy British accent*) was books for kids. I remember really starting to like books when we read The American Girls series, the original girls: Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly (Addy was added just as I was about to out-grow the books so she was the last one I read). As I grew older other series like The Baby-Sitter's Club ( I owned all of them), and Sweet Valley Twins/High became my favorites. I made my own kid kit and liked the idea of baby-sitting (I never trusted myself to actually take care of kids until high I do it full time!). My best friends were twins so the Sweet Valley High books were amazing. I read Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, and most of the Anne of Green Gables books in upper elementary and into middle school. My collection was peppered with dozens of other books: The Judge Benjamin books (little known series about a Saint Bernard...loved 'em!), Dear America books, Beyond the Burning Time, Summer of My German Soldier, A Little Princess, The Mandie series, Misty of Chincoteague (and sequels), anything I could get my hands on.

Are any of these books striking you as terribly intellectual? Some of them have educational content, many are historical in nature but not something a academic committee would select for a canon. Literary theory applies to very few of these books. Some people have managed to write theory on Anne of Green Gables, I can see Marxist theory or feminist theory in A Little Princess, possibly some feminist theory in Nancy Drew, everything else would be a real stretch. And yet I loved them. I still love them. I love the smell of my books, the feel of the soft pages. Sometimes I try to remember how old I was and what I was thinking the first time I thumbed through those pages. I feel connection to the old me when I read those same words.

The fact is it wasn't until middle school that I started reading true literature, the classics. I read Jane Eyre in sixth grade, I attempted Les Miserables the following year (got bored with Hugo's dissertations on everything 19th century and French), I read Frankenstein, Dracula, and Jekyll & Hyde the year after that. Apparently I was in a science-fiction/horror phase. I remember reading Dracula by the light of my nightlight (something I did a lot so my parents would think I was sleeping) and having the absolute dickens scared out of me. Perhaps that's why I don't like Dickens (really, really bad pun, I know).

In high school I was introduced to Pride & Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and The Awakening. Loved them all. Especially The Awakening. I was completely inspired. I read Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and lots of Shakespeare. I became completely enamoured with British literature, which is probably why my favorite college classes were the ones 'normal people' hated--the two Brit lit survey courses. The Dream of the Rood, Arthurian Tales, The Faerie Queen, essays by Mary Wollstonecraft, poems by Byron, Shelley, and Keats; I couldn't get enough of it. It was hard, it challenged me, but I loved it. The reward was worth the effort. It was normal for me to spend an hour trying to figure out the meaning of Shelley's poem 'Mont Blanc' but I was excited and thrilled when I finally 'got it'.

Looking back I can see how step by step I came from The American Girls to Twelfth Night. I was lucky enough to fall absolutely head over heels in love with reading and words as a child. And it was that love that carried me through the tough stuff, and the stuff I didn't like, to the stuff that absolutely inspires me today. It's entirely normal for me to read two or three hundred pages in a day, if I have the time. I tend to go on reading binges. Rather than nibbling a bit every day, I gobble up a four hundred page book in a day or two. But it all started sitting with my mom on her bed reading the books about Felicity Merriman, word by word, page by page, chapter by chapter.

I have high expectations for what a book 'should be' or how a book 'should be read'. It's because I've been trained to read, not just taught. I've been told what makes a book good rather than just feeling it instinctively. I try to not impose my snobbery on others, especially the kids I work with that are still trying to figure this whole reading thing out. I want them to love it because it is fun. That's why I loved it, and that's what eventually made me fall in love with the intellectual stimulation part. I want to help them choose books that they will love because they are fun, exciting, or interesting. And then, maybe, hopefully, they will start to choose harder books, older books, and make their way to Shakespeare like I did.

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