Novel written by Wilkie Collins
Why do we read? Because it is difficult and the books are there.
Occasionally, in middle school, we made a field trip to the local branch of the county library. They were down the street and around the corner, so we would walk on over en masse and terrify the librarians. Most often, we made these treks because we were doing research for term papers, which we were learning to write. Less often, we went in search of a book to read of our own choosing. This would lead to the inevitable book report.
More often, books were assigned by some arcane principle determined by the English teacher. We would arrive in the morning and find a fresh library book sitting on our desk. These felt random and onerous. Mine was always more boring and much thicker than everyone else’s. (Well, I know there was one girl who did seem frequently more oppressed than me. She was convinced the teacher disliked her and she may have had a point.)
I was one of those students who arrived way early due to the intricacies of the school bus system, left standing outside whatever the weather. So, I dashed inside once the doors were unlocked. Once, I tried to rearrange the books. As it turned out, the teacher actually remembered where she had placed the books not twenty minutes beforehand. That did not end well.
When you’re twelveand about to enter a horror movie, there’s that definite sense of dread, but it is paired with a certain excited anticipation. You’re really looking forward to all the emotions that are going to occur, but also a little stressed already. Take away all those good feelings and what you have left was how I felt about most of the books assigned to me: book award winners about coping with challenges, Willa Cather (so much Willa Cather…) and slow moving 19th century tomes that added immensely to the burdens that had to be dragged home. I would have traded five comic books, including two Incredible Hulks, for any Harry Potter.
I don’t have any idea why I ever picked up a book after they stopped being assigned. Obviously, I don’t remember many of them all that fondly. It is true that I lightened that diet with many things that I did want to read, but I was saved by the freedom to roam throughout the public library and go where my interests went.
The Moonstone, in truth, did not look absolutely dreadful and it was kind of entertaining, but it was long and I can’t pretend I didn’t think it was a slog. But it stuck with me, as has Willa Cather and probably all the rest that I can no longer name. I had no real way of judging the quality of anything back then. (I was publicly embarrassed by a teacher for saying that Shakespeare was not exactly hot stuff.) That became the groundwork. And the reason I have little patience for anything that feels like I’ve already been tormented enough.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 43 more to go.
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