I love to read. I read because I love to travel. If you’re like me and you can’t afford to take a gazillion vacations a year, picking up a good book is your next best bet, because you’re instantly transported to another time and place without even leaving your couch. I especially love books in which the characters travel. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or not. One of my favorite travel novels is Neither Here Nor There: Travels In Europe by Bill Bryson. In it he gives hilarious accounts of his travels across the continent. If you haven’t already read it, pick up a copy and prepare to laugh your ass off.
In the past couple years I’ve been mainly drawn to books that are on the banned list. Books that have been prohibited from certain schools and libraries for their language. Whether it’s the authors’ use of curse words and racial slurs, or the way they explicitly describe a rape or murder, these books are censored by certain societies. The minute I heard the list existed I had to work my way through it, albeit slowly because textbooks and papers take up a lot of my time. I usually try to read a book or two during my breaks from school.
This summer I started reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s about a man who marries a woman to get close to her 12-year-old daughter Lolita. It’s understandable why this book made it onto the banned list. The way the narrator explains his lust for adolescent girls can make some people uneasy. It didn’t bother me. I found some parts of it to be funny. This man is obsessed with his landlady-turned-wife’s daughter, and I loved the way he badmouths the missus and wills her to go away so he could be alone with her child — his stepchild. It’s hilarious. But when he and the girl actually have sex…
It was a surprising reaction. I never thought I wouldn’t be okay with it. I always considered myself to be open minded. Even though it’s fiction, the shit got just a tad bit too real for me. I decided to watch the movie instead; the original of 1962. I hate remakes. But it bored the crap out of me and Shelley Winters was mad annoying as the mother. Okay, I won’t blame that on this movie. She’s annoying in most roles. I fell asleep on it. When I woke up I didn’t feel so bad about not finishing the book, even though I was looking forward to that feeling of accomplishment one gets after reading a novel from cover to cover. I accepted that Lolita wasn’t my thing and moved on.
While we are on the subject of books I may never finish, after I put Lolita down I picked up John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I love Steinbeck. The Pearl and Of Mice and Men are among my favorite novels. I had such high hopes for Grapes. All the reviews about it being a great American novel got me so excited. I especially enjoyed being seen while reading it. I think that’s what most attracted me to it. Yes, I’m one of those people who likes the idea of reading a book more than actually reading the book. I didn’t know that until I realized I only read it on the train on the way to and from work or school. And while at the office I’d have it on display on my desk so people would be impressed. One chick was like, “Wow! You’re reading that for fun?” I had my nose up in the air for the rest of the day because she seemed in awe of my giant brain. I knew damn well I was not enjoying that book. When on the train I’d hold it up to my face so everyone could see what I’m reading. Looking up occasionally, searching the faces of the other passengers, hoping to see someone giving me his or her nod of approval. Basically giving too much of a damn about strangers’ opinions on my choice in reading material.
Steinbeck was brilliant with words. The way he describes the desolate landscape of the Dust Bowl made me feel like I was there. I felt the Joad family’s despair and desperation to get the hell up out of there, and I was so ready to make that journey with them to a better life in California. I still kind of am. I still feel like I should give this book another chance because people make such a big deal about it. But the dialogue gave me a headache. I can listen to people speak with country accents all day, but having to read it is tedious. I had a really hard time getting though this novel. It felt like a second job. I’d groan, “Time to start chapter 4.” And then let out a long, watery sigh. Maybe this is one of those tasks that I have to see through, even though it’s such a burden — yes a burden — and I have nothing to gain from finishing it other than being able to say that I did. To be able to brag that I read The Grapes of Wrath in its entirety and hope that one day it comes up in a conversation in which I’ll be able to contribute SOMETHING. Just in case that happens, I might pick up where I left off. But ain’t no way I’m starting over. Eff that!
I managed to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings before the new school term started. Maya Angelou’s autobiographical novel is wonderfully written. It documents Angelou’s life from ages 3 to 17 and the racism and other struggles she endured while growing up in the south. Even though a lot of it takes place in Alabama the dialogue was still a lot more tolerable than in Grapes. What I love most about Caged Bird is that it reads like fiction. It doesn’t feel like a boring autobiography. I recommend it.
The fall semester is underway, so I’m back to boring textbooks and articles, but I will continue working my way through the list of banned books. I just can’t wait to get through my second and final year of grad school so that I would be able to read more books I actually WANT to read or at least have the option of not finishing when I find them unbearable.