Tag Archives: reading

Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional

I read this great post on John Green's Tumblr, titled Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional:

"Reading is not a game of Clue; books are not a mystery that you have to solve by putting all the pieces together. That’s not the point. Find the meaning you want to find in it. That’s what we do with books because that’s what we do in life."

[John adds this:] If the point of reading is merely to understand precisely what the author intended, then reading is just this miserable one-sided conversation in which an author is droning on to you page after page after page and the reader just sits there receiving a monologue.

That’s not reading. That’s listening.

Reading is the active co-creation of a story, complete with all its symbols and abstractions. 

I thought about what John said. It set a small fire in my brain, and this is what came out:

English teachers who forced me to find symbolism and meaning in books make assigned reading in high school absolutely miserable. It was bad enough that I couldn’t just enjoy the story and spend time with the characters, but they also made me go on some kind of treasure hunt where I had to find something the teacher/school/board of education/someone-who-was-not-me decided was the “correct” thing to find.

As a result, I hated many classic works of literature, and actually resented them and the people who wrote them. I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of what any teacher would want their students to take out of any class, especially an English Literature class, but it's what happened to me.

Years later, when I was in my mid-twenties, I spent the summer rereading the books I’d hated in high school, because I figured they were classics for a reason and maybe as an adult, I'd be able to see why. I read:

Great Expectations - still hated it.

A Separate Peace - liked it, didn’t love it, but that’s a big improvement over how much I despised it when I was in school.

1984 - Loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Brave New World - Read it just after 1984. Loved it.

Romeo and Juliet - Hated this when I was 14 (who, at 14, is mature enough to appreciate it? What a huge FAIL it is to teach this to 9th graders), and was moved to tears by it as an adult. Went on a bit of a Shakespeare tear as a result, and did Julius Caesar, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Still didn’t understand all of it, but loved every second of it.

All Quiet on the Western Front - When your authoritarian Cold Warrior English teacher isn’t somehow making this book all about how fucking great Reagan is, it’s just amazing.

There were others, but you get the idea, right? I even grabbed the Cliff's and Spark Notes to get some "education" from the books when I was done reading them, but I can't recall anything the notes said, just what the book gave me when it was all done… I think that says a lot.

When I was a kid, I was already an avid reader, so these (hopefully) well-intentioned teachers couldn’t turn me off from reading in general and forever, but both of my siblings still won't pick up a book if you gave them a hundred dollars to do it. I understand that educators want to encourage students to dig into stories and see what they can find in them, and that’s a great exercise, but forcing them to find what some board of education has decided is the One Right Thing To Find does those kids (and did this kid) a huge disservice.

And not that it matters, but I'm going to reread The Great Gatsby just as soon as I finish A Clash of Kings, because it feels like the right thing to do.

Afterthought: I love teachers. I'm on record stating that my heroes are teachers, and I believe that teachers do not get the salary or respect by American society that they should get. I'm not attacking teaching or teachers at all with this post; I'm just recalling the experience I had with a small number of teachers in the 80s, who I'm sure were doing their jobs they way they thought was best for their careers and their students.

 

librarians are awesome

I was recently invited to participate in an awesome literacy project, and I wanted to share an excerpt from my contribution:

I want to take a moment and say thank you to librarians, because it was a librarian who made me fall in love with reading. In third or fourth grade, part of our curriculum was a monthly trip to a local library in Tujunga, California. One of the librarians would read us a short story, give a short talk about a literacy-related topic, and then let us pick a book off a table of paperbacks that we could keep. We were also allowed – no, encouraged – to check out up to three books, which we would have a month to read.

I was a nerdy, shy, awkward kid who was scared of everything, and the library intimidated me; I never knew where to start, I was afraid I’d pick a book the the Cool Kids would tease me about reading, and I always felt lost in the stacks. This librarian, though, reached out to me. She asked me what sort of things I liked on TV and in the movies, and recommended a few different books based on my answers, including the first real SciFi book I can recall reading, Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. I loved it so much, when I went back the next month, she taught me how to use the card catalog to find other books like it, entirely on my own. On that day, the library was transformed from a confusing and intimidating collection of books into a thousand different portals through time and space to fantastic worlds for me to explore.

I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was in her fifties, wore epic 1970s polyester pantsuits, huge glasses that hung from a long gold chain around her neck, and had a hairdo that was ten miles high. She was friendly and helpful, and when she reached out to that nerdy little kid, she changed his life. If you’re a librarian today, you probably don’t hear this very often, but thank you. Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives.

Libraries are constantly under attack from people who fear knowledge, politicians who think guns are more important than books, and people who want to ensure that multi-millionaires pocket even more money. As an author, father, and a reader, I beg you: please support your local libraries in any way you can, and if you enjoy reading, take a moment to thank a librarian.

in which we combine wil wheaton, books, and beer. (mmmm … beer.)

Last year, I went to the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens for an event they call Book and a Beer. It's pretty much what it sounds like: I read from my book while people drank beer. Then I signed my books while I drank beer. Then I ate dinner and had some more beer. Then we drove around looking for another seafood restaurant. Then we went fishing.

I had a lot of fun, filled a lot of growlers with Arrogant Bastard, Double dry-hopped IPA, Barleywine, and some other stuff I'm told I really enjoyed not sharing with the rest of the class a few days later. In fact, I had so much fun, I'm going back next week to do it all again … only this time, IT'S PERSONAL!

Wait. That's not what I was going to say. I mean, yes, it's personal, but that's not what's awesome about this time. What's awesome about this time is that I'm just the opening act for Rifftrax! They're doing The Matrix: The One That Really Sucks Out Loud And Makes You Want To Punch Babies. (No, not that one, the other one.) For the six of you who don't know: Rifftrax is a few of the guys from MST3K doing that thing they do so well, only this time they're doing it LIVE. I think it's safe to say that it'll be awesome.

I start at 6pm. I plan to read for either 20 or 40 minutes, depending on how many people show up, and what they're in the mood to hear me read. I'll be prepared with stuff from Happiest Days of Our Lives, and stuff from Memories of the Future. I'll also be prepared to stare into an empty space, wipe a single tear from my eye, and go drown my sorrows in beer. (That, by the way, is one of my default settings and is not specific to this event. It is a class feature, if you will.)

I plan to bring a few copies of some of my books with me, but due to bad planning, I'm very low on stock at the moment, and the string is all in three-inch lengths. However, if you come to the Bistro with your own copies of my books, I'll be happy to sign them for you. I will also sign …other things… within reason.

MY DETAILS! LET ME SHOW YOU THEM:

What: Wil Wheaton reads to you while you drink beer.
Why: Really?
When: Thursday July 23rd, 6pm-8pm.
Where: Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens
Address: 1999 Citricado Pkwy. Escondido, CA 92029

Pleasepleasepleaseplease come and hang out. It'll be a lot of fun, I promise. If you are coming, would you sort of RSVP in the comments?