It’s not a mystery to a lot of you, but I like to read just as much as I like to write.
I just don’t have the chance to do so often.
Lately, though, I’ve had an itch to read the classics again, and by this I mean the classics that they shove down our throats in public schools. I remember multiple discussions of the Dickens classics with the standard questions, but not a single one of those questions was even remotely motivating insofar as having us, the students, the readers, actually read into and enjoy the book for not just what it is, but its message.
But this is what I’ve noticed as of late. I’ve been reading Charles Dickens again, specifically A Tale of Two Cities. I read it the first time in eighth grade and back then, I did everything in my power to not be bored out of my skull. Why? The teacher was more concentrating on having us pass the test, answer the questions, write the essays, but not once on the fact that this is a story about a severely turbulent time in history, and about how far people want to go for revenge. As a result, how do you think I – and students in my class – liked the story?
Predictable, isn’t it?
But now, re-reading it long after school was out, I enjoyed the story tremendously. Dickens had a talent for capturing the setting, and had an even greater talent for capturing the rawest of human emotions: love and revenge. Both figure very prominently into the story, but the big difference is, I enjoyed it. Thoroughly. Why? Because I wasn’t thinking about how to answer a question on a test. I was thinking of the story itself. Of what the story meant to me. What the characters were trying to say and do. How the trauma of Alexandre Manette’s imprisonment would later be his own son-in-law’s undoing, and the exact way that it wove through the story without being revealed until the last couple of chapters. And I realized that, if there was a way for me to read the book for this reason – for interpreting it in my own way – rather than answer questions on a test, I’d have 1. enjoyed it more and 2. was able to apply lessons that much better.
And of course, the next question I asked was, why in the hell isn’t that the way literature is taught?
I know, long answer pending, and we can wax ranty on the downfall of education all we want. The bigger thing to note is, we all read the schoolbooks far differently now than we do then, and we’re able to extract that much more from it. Why? Our perspectives evolve, and we’re able to relate to the books better, even if the French Revolutionary period has little in common with, say, living in NY Suburbia in 2013. Even if you’re reading fiction or trashy fiction for the fun of it, you’re still taking something away from it, even if that something is, “That author’s nuts.”
But the classics, whether fiction or nonfiction, are important to touch back on once in a while. These are the books that had endured the test of time and have been around longer than our country, in some cases. Obviously, they had something to teach people. If you hadn’t pulled the lesson out the first time, you can do so on your own time and terms. And who knows? Maybe there’s more than one lesson to have with them. There’s a reason people read Alexandre Dumas, both father and son, over and over again. Same with Dickens. And Upton Sinclair’s books brought about an entire organization. Bonus if you know which one I refer to.
The fact of the matter is, re-reading books you haven’t touched for years is good for both a change of perspective, and for actually enjoying the book. Especially if it’s something that either your English teacher had bungled without a backwards glance, or something that you wanted to read but it wasn’t on your reading list (anything by Upton Sinclair, in my case). Unfortunately, I find that English teachers sometimes do nothing to encourage actually enjoying reading.
What I find reprehensible, though, is when people outright come out and say “I don’t read” and expect that to not be a big deal.
That? I have a problem with. I have a massive problem with people who deliberately choose not to read books, regardless of genre, and regardless of format.
Choice of not reading a book, regardless of format, is similar to living in the dark when you have a light switch next to you, and then saying, “Oh, I don’t turn on the lights.” There’s no dressing it up: if you do not read anything apart from social media, then you are simply, point-blank, ignorant. No other way around it. Books are in every format in the world: paper, electronic, audio. If you commute, you can put an audiobook on, or if you’re in public transit, download it on your smartphone. There’s no excuse for not reading. If you can find the time, you can read. If you can read a newspaper, you can just as easily open a book. If you can spend hours on Facebook, you can download the Kindle app and dedicate a couple of hours to a book.
“There’s nothing good to read!” Then find what’s good, or better yet, write it.
Really, folks. Read. It’s good for your thinking, and it’s a just plain-and-out fun activity that doesn’t cost very much; in a lot of cases, it costs less than Starbucks.