Literature: The Pleasures and the Pains

I love reading. According to my mom, I taught myself to read when I was very young, starting with stop signs, and I can remember spending hours in her office ‘writing’ on a little blackboard. In pre-school, while the other kids were learning to read my teacher made me go and sit at the back of the class and sort out her cards – probably because I was acting like a know-it-all and spoiling it for the others, though she said because I was getting bored. Half way through Sub A (Grade 1), my teacher decided I should be in Sub B (Grade 2) as I could already read at that level and so I was moved up. I have just always loved to read. Receiving prizes at school that involved vouchers for books was the ultimate reward for hard work, and I remember falling in love with stories like Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka and James Aldridge’s The Marvelous Mongolian in my early reading years. In my teen years my nose was always in a book – family holidays I could always be found in the caravan reading, or on cold winter days reading in the warmth of the car parked in the sun. In high school I lost my heart to Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and in English class we did William Horwood’s Callanish, which has always stuck with me.

My adult years are no different, though I have far less time to devour all the books I would like to read. In between work, single-parenting, studying and my own writing there is little time for literary pleasures though I squeeze in a novel or three when the craving just becomes too much and I need to stop whatever else it is I am engrossed in. December holidays are always my make up time and I will read a trilogy in a matter of days.

With my love for reading and writing, it is little surprise that my choice of studies has been a B.A. degree with an English major. This has however brought a whole new dimension to literature. Reading has now become work. I have loved some of the novels and strongly disliked others. I have found myself procrastinating, finding other things to do rather than read. I have got half way through a book and skipped to others. The thing is, it’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy certain works if I had been given them to read casually, but sometimes the manner of writing makes it a difficult read when the goal is to absorb important points to recount in an essay later. Working out which quotes to memorise in case they are of value in an exam and disregarding others. There is also a vast difference in the level of enjoyment of a book when given three very similar works to read one after the other: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice became a favourite by the mere fact that it was the first of her three works I was assigned that I read. I would have loved Persuasion and Emma just as much, I am sure, if I had not had to read all three in close succession. The same goes with Shakespeare: I enjoyed Romeo and Juliet, but Hamlet and Measure for Measure became tedious. Having said that, with those exams past – I actually recall all of these books with fondness and I will never part with my copies.

This semester is no different, though we are exploring a few autobiographies, which have never been my choice of book to begin with. The subject matter is rather political as well, also not a great interest of mine and so I find myself forcing myself to read these books. To the point that I have taken brightly coloured paper clips and sectioned off each chapter, giving myself timed goals for completing each chapter and taking a short break after each. They are vastly different to all the other works we have done, but that is the point of studying literature – to expose oneself to all forms of texts and broaden one’s understanding and appreciation of different genres and styles, and ultimately as a writer, hone my own style and establish my own voice.

And so, until exams are over for the year I will push through the pains of reading and in December I will laze in the sun and soak up some literary pleasures of my own choosing.