I’m poorly- read. I didn’t grow up in a culture of literature. My mom liked to read but mostly things that eventually turned into a television mini-series. My brother used to say that his favourite author was Harrison Ford because he was on the cover of most of the books he read.
I think I may be slightly dyslexic
In my primary school book club where we could send away for any book, friends would get Water Ship Down or Lord of the Rings and I got 101 Pickle Jokes.
Even in high school, if we were assigned three chapters to read of A Clockwork Orange, if I didn’t fall asleep with my head in the book, I immediately forgot the paragraph I’d just read. I probably read about six or seven Shakespearean plays. I thought the comedies were generally a waste of time and I liked the three or four dramas the most, depending on how engaged my teacher was. King Lear was my favourite.
I once took a third year university course, American Lit since 1960, when I was in second year. We had to read about twelve 400 page novels in fewer than 10 weeks. I only bought three of them and kind of read one and a half of them. This was before wiki and the internet so I was screwed for the exam. I went to a book store the day before and looked at the books to familiarize myself with the character names from each book so I had a better chance of bullshitting my way through the exam. I’d read Catch-22 and most of The Mosquito Coast but everything else was a mystery to me. That I got a B-minus in that course may have been both my finest academic accomplishment and the most telling indicator of my ultimate academic failures. It still makes me smile though.
It’s odd. Even if I’ve read my fair share of John Grishams (I once read The Firm while driving 70 mph between Chicago and Detroit) and other airport style books, the good stuff I’ve read has really stayed with me. The literature. The writing that wins awards. It doesn’t have to be dense, it just has to be good.
My wife pretty much only reads good writing. She won’t read a book with mediocre reviews like she won’t book a hotel or go to a restaurant that doesn’t seem worth her time. And I’m starting to come around to her way of thinking in this regard.
I like to read writing that makes me think. I like to read writing that makes me laugh. I like writing that makes me learn. I like writing that makes me wonder.
I can’t change my dyslexia or whatever it is that makes me fall asleep when I read things that don’t compel me. But I can find and read more things that do compel me. Things that make me laugh and wonder and think and learn and feel sad.
And I wish that I’d made a better effort as a younger person to read more substantive things. I don’t think I could do Shakespeare without a good teacher but I could read a hundred important books that are only names to me right now. I suppose it’s not too late. But our minds become less elastic as we age and who knows how a hundred different books that I may have read could have made a difference in my life? Or at least enlightened my way of thinking. Because I know the books that I have read have made a difference in my life.
If I could go back to that American Lit class’s reading list from 1986, I’d buy every one of those books tomorrow. I might fall asleep during a few but I doubt it. And it only takes one to make a difference.