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Reading well

I am told I am a very good reader. Astute. My professors have commented that I pinpoint important elements in a work and understand their significance. Other students have said I’m a thorough reader with insight. As such, I’m a valuable peer in workshops. I don’t feel as if I’m a particularly good reader. I see words on the page, and since I don’t know how others would process them, I think and feel what I think and feel. Reading is a very intimate experience if you think about it.


 


I’m reading a fantastic book this week called In Fact, the best of creative non-fiction. (Edited by lee Gutkind). It is a book of nonfiction essays about life, event, attitudes etc…. by some of the most renowned writers published today. Each essay concludes with the author discussing the challenges and urges that gave birth to the essay, as well as advice or aspiring writers. I am loving this book. It makes me think. Feel. It inspires me. I have developed a fascination for creative non-fiction, and as soon as I graduate and finish my fiction project, I am looking forward to undertaking a memoir – maybe begin working on creative non-fiction projects for magazines. Creative non-fiction (a sister to fiction, only it’s based on life experience) is a far cry from traditional non-fiction, and 80% of all the works bought today for publication happen to be creative non-fiction. Guess that is an off-shoot of our reality TV culture.  But it is not because the style is so popular that I want to experiment in the genre. I think I am suited to it. Creative non-fiction feels natural to me – blends with my voice. If I had had a better understanding of literary disciplines when I began this MFA journey, I probably would have made it my major of concentration. Ah well, I am learning about it in conjunction with my fiction studies.


 


What else am I reading? Lots. I am reading The Poisonwood Bible now. And a slew of short stories and literary journals.  I don’t always feel like a good reader. Nonfiction moves me, but sophisticated fiction takes trust and contemplation to understand. Sometimes I struggle to grasp the core meaning in prose. Recently, I read a story that is written entirely in letters from and to a man in prison. This story is beautifully written because each letter has a distinct, individual voice and collectively, they make one conducive whole that supplies the reader with a bigger picture. I often wish I had the skill to pull off something this unique. I admire an author with such a strong natural gift for words. Artistic craft and personal flavor – what a combination! Anyway, I read passages of this story and didn’t know what to think. At first I thought, there is a very special message here. Then, I read on and thought, no, this is just a story and I am reading more into it than the author intended. (I’m aware that people so often see what they are looking for; mentally conjuring up what they wish was there. The author might just be having fun, and here I am foolishly trying to assign meaning where there is none when all I have to do is be entertained). Then, the pendulum of my mind swings back and I think, No, this is brilliant. This text is embedded with powerful messages – only, maybe I am too simple to understand them – help! Where is my literary decoder ring? Then, I decide it is only a story again and I feel so stupid for trying to complicate what is really just a lovely reading experience. No author should have to endure such scrutiny – a story is what it is. And maybe it isn’t important that I understand. Maybe I should just enjoy the amazing flow of words, the beautiful mind behind the masterpiece. I doubt my readers catch every nuiance or message, try as I might to write in multi-levels.


 


So, as you can see, I may seem like a good reader, but really it is fleeting. The luck of the draw. Sometimes I am on. Sometimes, I struggle, frustrated in my weakness. I long for simpler text and I think the next book I buy should be Literature for Dummies.


 


I wish I had all the answers. Or at least, a decoder ring.


Till then, I will just keep reading. Sometimes that is all you have.

* Ee-gad. It is almost time for my next class! Time flies when you are blogging instead of doing your homework.  I must jump into a phone booth and change back into super dance-teacher and fly back to the convention center.
Bye

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

One response »

  1. Jaime Woodman Saunders

    So you like The Poisonwood Bible? I teach The Bean Trees by Kingsolver, and my freshmen love it. I too love Kingsolver. Her imagery is powerful and her symbolism isn’t so obscure that my students can’t relate. She also focuses on nature, which is also appealing to my students. I want to read Prodigal Summer next, but I didn’t get to it this summer. I spent this summer reading books for a new class I’m teaching this year. I’ll be teaching Women in Literature to seniors, and my major works include The Awakening, The Women of Brewster Place, and The Handmaid’s Tale. I also created a course reader with various essays, short stories, and poems. I hope the class is a success.And you are a good reader. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

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