A few weeks back I was having a conversation with my friend about being an English major. As the conversation progressed, he mentioned something about feeling daunted by reading and that he had never read a book all the way through. English classes in high school hadn’t made any sense to him, and even if he started to read now, it probably wouldn’t be “literature.” He said all of this with a sense of guilt as if I was going to reprimand him for not reading enough.
I’ve gotten this before from other people. When they hear about my education, they tell me they read but aren’t “literary about it.” Or, I get the line about not having read any of the classics. Without fail there is always a feeling of confessing one’s sins; if they tell The English Major that they don’t like/understand literature, it somehow makes it OK. I always tell them the same thing: I don’t care.
This is a warm and fuzzy kind of rejection, I promise. What I mean when I say this to my friends, or anyone who comes to me with this problem is that I really, genuinely, from the bottom of my little bookworm heart do not care what you read as long as you’re reading. The best part? Magazines count! Newspapers count! Blogs count! It all counts! If you’re reading, you’re reading. Screw being LITERARY (said in a old man British voice while I twirl my fake mustache and puff on my tobacco pipe). If you are reading, you are reading. Plain and simple.
After explaining this to my friend, he asked me if I had ever read Dracula. Come to find out, he had started reading the book but he said it was taking him too long.
That’s another problem.
Everyone reads at a different pace. I’m gonna get real honest here for a minute: English majors don’t read all the assigned reading.
I know, right?
Admittedly, much of the time I’m avoiding reading for school because I’m reading a book of my own choosing on the side, but that’s why I’m an English major! I’m a weirdo with a specialized skill-set of weird. The average person doesn’t read twelve novels in sixteen weeks. Just like I can’t comprehend how the hell my boyfriend can do a physics problem thingy on the whiteboard in the kitchen at 2 AM, he can’t comprehend how I can read The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope for three hours on end, get up to pee, then go for three more hours. It really gets him when I tell him what happened in two-hundred pages, “This dude doesn’t want his daughter to marry this Lopez guy because he’s racist and thinks Lopez is a Jew. He also thinks his daughter is this perfect little angel when, let’s be honest, she has totally been letting Ferdinand finger her in the servants’ quarters after dinner parties.” Then when he says, “Did any of that really happen?” I have to say honestly, “Well, they don’t say it in the book, but if I know a bitch, then, yes.”
Adding that juiciness is a requirement they don’t tell you about when reading “The Classics.” The Classics, darling, are boring as shit. I mean booooring, snooze-fest 2012. I don’t mean they are bad, I just mean there is a lot of contextualization that has to happen between the page and your brain for you to understand why Mrs. Paddington not sending a letter of thanks to Duchess Pompous is a bigfuckingdeal. In fact, it’s enough of a deal to require one-hundred and fifty pages of telling. My friend isn’t going to pick up that book independently of the classroom and go, “This shit is good.” It’s just not going to happen.
What I’m saying is baby steps are a good thing. Read what you enjoy and don’t let anyone get you down about not being intelligent enough. Those people, those assholes that try to make other people feel bad for their assumed lack of knowledge, probably don’t know nearly as much as they think they do. Either that or they are just really socially awkward, which is really a pretty good possibility. Even still, if you’re getting shit for not reading enough, just smile and think about Emily getting boned by Ferdinand Lopez, who I imagine looks like a young John Stamos.
Yes! Oh yes, you have no idea how happy I am that someone else is saying this!
(As a Lit major who LIKES genre fiction and other stuff, this kind of snobbery totally annoys the heck out of me. Also, I’VE BEEN BORED BY CLASSICS TOO).
Thank you! I knew there were more of me out there! Isn’t it a pain when you tell someone in one of your classes that you like some genre and they give you that smug bastard look?
Speaking of genre, if you like fantasy even just a little, check out “Name of the Wind.” It’s a great introduction to the fantasy genre while also being just a great story.
*puts Name of the Wind in her reading list* I never get sick of getting reading recommendations. 🙂
And while I’m lucky enough to have had a small class consisting of people who appreciate genre fiction, I DID have to face other people (YOUNGER THAN ME!) who give me that look.
The kicker is that for all their pompous posturing, they obviously don’t understand those books they supposedly read. How screwed up is that?
Oh my gosh, I love this post! I had a deep dislike for about 90% of my fellow English Majors when I was college, because they were so snobby and pretentious. And you’re right, people definitely seem to think that English Majors are prone to reprimanding people if they don’t read “real” literature. Whatever that is.
Also, I love The Name of the Wind, and it’s sequel. 🙂
Dude! Isn’t that book rad? And you are right when you say, “real literature. Whatever that is.” I could write my thesis on how arbitrary canon is. Just think about how differently people would look at books like Harry Potter if Toni Morrison told Oprah, “Those books are brilliant.”
I thought english majors were great at putting bs in their essays to make it look like they read the crap for class when they didn’t…at least that’s what I did.
That’s so true. I’ve done that many a time. And it’s like I said before, most of the time we are too busy reading any book but the one we are supposed to read for the class. Funny, isn’t it?
I could hug you. I totally agree. Whether you read what I read doens’t make any difference at all. Just read, because 75% of the population doesn’t and that’s sad.
That’s exactly what I was trying to get across with this post! So many people aren’t even literate, and a lot of people who are just don’t read because they think it’s an inaccessible activity or they will be judged for their choice. Just read and be stoked about it!