I use words goodly

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Find a degree in English, Philosophy, and Theater in every box! Plus a temporary tattoo!

I have a Bachelor of Arts in English. I swear, they give those things out in Cracker Jack boxes.

I kid! I kid! Put your spatulas at ease, fellow English majors, those burgers don’t flip themselves!

Seriously, I loved, and still love, everything English, it’s my native tongue after all. What I mean is, I love literature and grammar and writing and being pretentious. Apparently, I also love not knowing what to do with my life, why else choose such an ambiguous degree to pursue?

Even with that certificate authenticating that I made it through four years at a reputable institution, charming my professors through long-winded essays that never came to any conclusion on anything conclusive, I must confess, I am a sham.

Yes, a sham. You may even see it in the way I write my blog sometimes. Not only do I make up my own grammar rules, sometimes I use a word so grossly incorrectly that the only thing that can be deduced is that I took an existing word and made it into a new word, devoid of it’s prior association. I’m that good.

It doesn’t stop there. You should hear me talk. I don’t even pronounce words correctly. For 28.5 years, I pronounced the word placate as “play-sate.” My husband first pointed it out to me, and I told him he was an idiot (I have a BA in English after all, from Penn State!). Well, he was, and is, correct, but I still can’t kick the habit. It’s far too entrenched in my brain. This mispronunciation is inoperable.

I have no idea what I would do at work without Grammar Girl. She is my savior whenever I forget the rules of capitalization in a title, which is everyday. How am I even employed?

I know I have faults as a writer (I’m talking about you, passive voice! ) and I’ve come to terms with it. Mostly because I don’t even notice my bad habits at this point—they are far too habitual. I don’t even want to change.

Perhaps I justify this with the compliment I received from the best professor I ever had, in the best class I ever took, and the only class I never skipped (creative writing, of course). All the students had to write a piece of fiction and critique every individual’s short story—mine was naturally the longest by a good 15 pages (remember, lover of passive voice here). The teacher said, “after reading Gingermermaid’s, did it really seem like 25 pages?” And the class was like, “no! How magical!” And he was like, “style…blah blah blah…genius…blah blah blah…A+++++” or something along those lines, I’m sure of it.

Look, I’m no Thomas Hardy (my personal favorite) or Shakespeare (thank goodness) or Suzanne Collins (nom nom nom games), I’m just me. A girl with a degree in English who works in the unrelated topics of the Middle East and Africa, who disregards the grammar rules that I don’t agree with (or remember), and a girl who should never ever teach English to anybody—ever. A girl with a blog I can abuse with words.

 

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Let’s get Oscar Wilde!

Yes, “let’s get Oscar Wilde!” This is what my boyfriend envisioned my college spring break shenanigans entailed. I get it, I was an English major and reading is super cool, but, come on, I wasn’t that nerdy…

I mentioned that I recently acquired a Kindle, a decision not easily made, but due to my re-kindled (bedumchhhhh) love of reading, my book supply simply couldn’t keep up with my page turning, so-to-speak.

In exploring new opportunities for literary magic to download to my Kindle, I came across many of those lists saying things like, “100 Books to Read Before You Die” and “50 Books Every 28-year-old Redhead MUST Read.” I look at these lists, and think, “eh.”

While there are books that are absolute literary genius, it’s tough to choose one genre, one era, one author, one title, or even several of the same and make it a “must read before death” quota. Reading is subjective and some of those classics and bestsellers are just not for everyone.

I’ve read Wuthering Heights twice, not on my own volition, it had something to do with passing classes in college. Look, I understand the Bronte sisters were far ahead of their time, and blah blah blah, and I really like Jane Eyre and Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but Wuthering Heights? I did NOT like it. I wouldn’t even go as far to say, “OMG, you should read Wuthering Heights cuz it’s like a classic and stuff.” There is so much else out there to read, and while I appreciate the kind of book it is, I would’ve been living just as well, if not better, having not ever read it. I’d probably be less angry at Emily Bronte, for example.

As much as I hate these lists, I still like to peruse them for something new ideas or a, “yeah, I really should read that” moment. I should at least investigate what all the hubbub is about.

My modus operandi with books is that if I’m halfway through and I’m not enjoying it, I put it away. So I’m sorry highly recommended A Staggaring Work of Exceptional Genius, I get that you’re a good book, but halfway through, it wasn’t working out. It’s not you, it’s me. But there’s too much else out there to dive into that I’d enjoy much, much more to waste my time on a book I’m less than thrilled about. Thanks, anyway.

So, to contradict much of what I’ve mentioned in this post, I do have a list of books I think people should read—wait, let me rephrase—a list of recommendations.

East of Eden – John Steinbeck (…and ANYTHING by John Steinbeck, man is a genius)

Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery

Tess of the D’urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Scarlett Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Curious Incident of the Dog – Mark Haddon

Empire Falls – Richard Russo

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

The Collected Works of Algernon Blackwood – Algernon Blackwood (I couldn’t choose just one titillating story!)

Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls (I still cry thinking of that book)

The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (soooo captivating, come on!)

The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

The Diary of Anne Frank

The Giver – Lois Lowry

Look, there are many more great books I could recommend, even more I don’t recommend, and there are a great many great books I’m waaaaaaaay past due to read that should be on this list. So, this summer, while my friends are getting drunk till 3am on a Friday night, I will be snuggled up with my cat and Kindle till the witching hour, catching up on all the books I can digest in a marathon reading, saving some money and brain cells, and waking up with only a literature hangover.

Things are going to get Oscar Wilde.

Reconnecting with literature: reading the books I was supposed to read in college but didn’t

I have my BA in English. What they should call it is a BS. Bedumchhhhh! Just kidding.

Getting a degree in English entails lots of reading, lots of reading, and a bit more reading. Followed by lots of essays, lots of essays, and a few more essays. This work is done  in the hopes that us English majors can earn a position as the manager of a McDonald’s one day. Seriously, what were we thinking?

I wasn’t the archetypal English major. Firstly, because I was sure I already knew everything about everything (which probably made me a typical English major, but not ideal). Secondly, I hated, and still hate, nearly all poetry. Thirdly, I didn’t have my head oriented in studying—it was always chasing after some foreign world with some foreign guy in it which made me grumpy and borderline ready to skip college and frolic in the Mediterranean with my idealized Adonis.

I wasn’t happy at school and I didn’t have the epic collegiate experience that everyone around me was having. What everyone had told me the best part of my life would be was a crushing disappointment. This attitude, experience, whatever, had an impact on my study habits, test taking skills, and general view of literature and writing.

Between hours spent in the library and the hours curled in a hot-ball mess in my bedroom, my manic study habits varied through the semester and even the hour in the day. It is nothing short of a miracle that I not only passed my classes decently but that I managed to do so with a severe nonchalance toward the reading part of my degree—the most essential part of being an English major.

My senior year of college, I had multiple 400-level literature courses to take to fulfil those remaining graduation requirements. Good scheduling on my part (not). This meant many big, thick books to read on a weekly basis.

Rather than read the novels themselves, I took shortcuts. I listened in class, talked to my peers, checked out summaries and analyses online, and then puzzled it all together. It worked for me. I got the gist and manipulated the info into an essay, with a few quintessential shout-out quotes. This gave me steady B’s. Thank goodness my teachers preferred essays to exams. My saving grace is my knack for BS.

It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized by half-assing it, I didn’t maximize my education and I missed a great opportunity to delve into some seriously great pieces of work. Such is the wisdom that comes with age and failed romances.

The books I was supposed to read during my collegiate career sat patiently on the shelves in my room, waiting to fulfill their destiny to be read. A few years after graduating, I began to open their musty pages and read of my own volition and in my own time.

I feel like a tool for not reading these books when I had the opportunity—to really delve into them with my peers and professors. But in a way, I appreciate them more now than I ever could as a pompous, despondent 21-year-old. Now, I look online for interpretations, discussions, so that I enhance my reading experience—only after I have finished the book. No spoilers!

Here are my most recent reading renaissances:

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100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

If you like incest and feeling a bit down, this is the book for you. It’s beautifully written, dense, and a bit perturbing. Amuck with magical realism; it’s tough to understand if the magic is real or a metaphor (in my opinion). Politcal theming modeled after Columbian and other Latin American history. The character names are reused often, so it gets confusing.

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The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Who doesn’t like some Hemingway? Probably lots of people, but what do they know? With an attention to detail, each word setting the scene, mastering an unmatched style of narrative, get involved in the lives of the impotent Jake, and the siren, Lady Brett Ashley, and meet the group of friends that Hemingway modeled his own life after as part of the post-WWI ex-patriots who took to Europe to write, live, and consume a lot of alcohol.

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Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

I read this, but to be honest, not my favorite. Not because it wasn’t well-written and interesting, but because it wasn’t my taste. The story mainly takes place in WWII, written and narrated to speak about survival at the bombing of Dresden, in a very winding road kind of way. Loaded with weird time travelly, flash-backy, flash-forwardy things, it can seem like too much science fiction for the non-lover of the sci-fi genre. Not a happy book; lots of death in this one. So it goes.

Currently Reading…

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East of Eden, John Steinbeck

I just finished chapter 1, so, get back to me…

Over the years I’ve read other pieces of forsaken literature; these reflect the ones I picked up the past months and that I actually physically have in hand. I can’t remember all the required reading I completed since graduating, but I know through this process I discovered new favorite authors in the old, and a new appreciation of a subject I claim to have a degree in. In some ways, I’m more the pretentious English major than I ever was.

I learned in college that books cannot be read via osmosis under your pillow, but they also can’t be read by an unwilling subject. It may be too late to turn my B’s (sometimes C’s) into A’s, but there’s no reason I can’t give my brain some entertainment and mental exercise.

Let’s do this, Steinbeck.