OK, I’m in a bad mood. Planet Literature is sitting out there all big and beautiful and purple (I don’t know why it’s purple. It just is.) ready to be explored, and base camp has gone all freaky on me. It’s nearing The End of The Semester, and the students pretty much all have the April disease I like to call hair on fire. My. Paper. Is. Due. In. A. Week. And. I. Have. Not. Yet. Chosen. A. Topic. One word at a time as they roll on the carpet to douse the flames of furious denial.
Who am I to talk? I have hair on fire, too. I was supposed to write up a grant proposal by April 25. And when the odd hour popped up in which I would normally have a student to extinguish, but he or she was probably at home not writing a paper, I did not write it. I read. And I read the wrong things. Yes, I have an opinion on the right and wrong things to read. But, recognizing how incredibly judgmental that is, I rarely share that opinion. So a couple of weeks ago when a colleague asked me to make my next blog post a list of the things she should read (she might have phrased it “should have read” but that makes it sound like some weird bucket list, and lately the only bucket I can deal with is the fire buckets necessitated by students’ hair), I got all nervous and the result (as you might have noticed) was an eerie silence from this normally clacking keyboard. I plain stopped writing posts. I was going to have to render a firm statement. And, although I might be wrong, and we could do some preliminary research and have a roundtable about this before committing, I think I might just have a problem with that sometimes.
Good ol’ wishy-washy Charlie Brown.
Reading is really so much more than consuming the words off the page or screen. That’s just decoding; turning an alphabet into a language. Now, turning language into meaning — that’s another task entirely. So any list I might make is going to have to focus on the meaning I’ve gotten, and for me, meaning is always how does it help me decode the world. Big Picture time. The Big Questions. Like this:
What does it mean to love others more than you love yourself?
Read James Joyce’s “The Dead.” Read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Can we grow in enlightenment?
Read Huckleberry Finn. Read Ursula K. KeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.
What are the consequences of violent war?
Read Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. Read Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade. Read Florence Nightingale’s diaries of the Crimea.
What are the rewards of noble war?
Read The Aeneid.
How long can we stave off the darkness?
Read Beowulf. Read The Lord of the Rings.
Why can’t we go back in time, to change the past or the future?
Read Robert Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer.
Does it matter into which country we are born?
Read Aphra Behn’s Oronooko. Read Phillis Wheatley’s “On Being Brought from Africa to America.”
How do a people shape their identity?
Read Jefferson’s Notes on a State of Virginia. Read John and Abigail Adams’ letters. Read Layamon’s Brut, and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and The Venerable Bede. Read Charles Chestnutt’s The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories from the Color Line.
OK. The proposal is in, the semester is wrapping up, I had a good night’s sleep Friday; a good afternoon nap most of Saturday; and another good night’s sleep Saturday. I might just be back. Time to explore.