I've got some sort of awful cold (insert avian flu jokes here) that has rendered me bedridden for the past few days. Normally this would drive me absolutely insane, but I have lost myself in the world of books, really lost myself this time, something that has become increasingly uncommon in my life of late. While I still read a lot, I have begun to wonder lately how much of it I really read - I mean take in for all of it's glory - the carefully woven stories; the characters that remind you of people you know, or would want to know, or for that matter seriously would never want to know; how many of the words that drip like honey off an author's pen, that pull you into a page and make you rethink your life - how many books like that have I read lately? Granted not everything I've read over the past few months has been of any redeemable value, or even worthy of retention past the closing of the book (I picked up a LOT of trash novels over the summer in hostels), but even the ones that were, how much of them did I really take in? When did I lose my critical eye for evaluating literature and sucking the living breath out of a book? I suppose it happened somewhere along the lines of having a "career". I read books because they were the one's everyone else was reading, I got sucked into popular literature and stopped looking at the literature itself. Somewhere along the lines, I lost sight of the true value and became this "pseudointellectual" that saw only words on a page, not the meaning behind them. I was reading just to have something to talk about at cocktail parties and client meetings, not to learn or to evolve or to examine the many aspects of humanity, often disturbing aspects, that truly is literature. It makes me feel like I need to go back and re-read everything that I've read in the past 7 or 8 years and realllllly read it this time, find what I missed, rediscover the underlying pretexts and themes... pick apart characters and link them to the history, chew them up, linger on the flavor and spit them out to look at them all over again, like a kid eating a jawbreaker for the first time, examining and re-examining the changing flavors and colors as he gets closer to the center.
So what has gotten me into this pontification about the value of literature and it's life changing values? This is no sudden relevation of mine. I've had the conversation before with the Wicked Brit about being to lazy to truly be an academic. But the latest book on my list... Reading Lolita in Tehran, brought all of this to light with a thundering crash and a jolting feeling that I've been missing out on an awful lot lately. I finished it today, while laying pathetic and whimpering on my sofa next to the heater. Written by an Iranian English Lit professor, it describes 18 years of her life, living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian war with Iraq, and all the changes in society and beliefs in that period, the crimes against humanity, especially women, all connected through the literature she was teaching at the time. It's an extremely powerful book, allowing the reader to not only fall in love with her writing, but also fall in love all over again with the authors she talks about - Fitzgerald, James, Nabokov and Austen. As soon as I closed the book, I wanted immediately to re-read some of these classics (The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Lolita, Pride and Prejudice) and see if I could find once again the passionate connections that she described.
I just happened to bring a copy of Gatsby back with me this summer. I think I'll go grab it from the shelf. It'll make for good company this evening - a tragic tale of love, lust and greed; power and wealth; and the loss of the American Dream... yes, there are some books you never forget, no matter how long it's been since you read them last. And so begins my journey back into Reading, with a capital R, and out of the void of racing through pages just to get to the end.