Thursday, January 19, 2006

Required Reading

I impressed a friend today. I told her I was reading William Faulkner.

And not because Oprah told me to. I don’t watch Oprah or anything else. That’s why I have time to read Faulkner.

William Faulker started out as being what I call my “required reading authors.” I always have several books going: One that interests me from the get-go, one non-fiction that I skip around, usually a biography that Dirtman has recommended, and my “required reading.”

“Required Reading” books are usually harder to get through than your Grisham best seller. Sometimes you’re reading them and you realize you haven’t paid attention for at least two paragraphs and have to go back and reread. Sometimes you can’t understand a single word that you are reading, or certainly not in the order presented, yet you know exactly what the author is saying. And sometimes…sometimes…you read something that is so utterly true that you want to cry out “Me too!” to the author.

Those are the times that make required reading worthwhile.

That, and the buzz you get when you’re done. Just like runners say they get a “high” when they push themselves beyond the pain of the exertion. When I push past my brain’s natural laziness and force the working cells to wake up the cells that nodded off while I was reading a serial mystery, there is a physical sensation of awareness.

Now don’t get me wrong, I read a lot of the usual fare. I’m skipping along the alphabet with Sue Grafton and I have a soft spot in my heart for Lillian Jackson Baun’s rapidly disintegrating Cat Who… series. I read all my sons’ Harry Potter books. And for dog mysteries, no one compares to the dry wit of Susan Conant. I love T.R. Pearson’s voice and Mark Halprin’s metaphor. It’s fun to find local references in Rita Mae Brown’s books, both mysteries and general fiction, and Donald McCaig’s smart treatise on herding dogs. And when I’m utterly wiped out, depressed and needing comfort, I get in my flannel jammies, find some chocolate, and curl up with a Bobbsey Twins book, preferably one written in the 1910s.

I may read one required reading for every five regular books, but I’m always better for having completed it.

The one drawback is that the more required reading you complete, the less tolerant you are of some of the schlock you used to think was passable.

Conversely, what you used to think was required reading, suddenly becomes what you are reading for fun.

Like Faulkner.

I started out five years ago with The Sound and the Fury. I had to go on line and get a cheat sheet to tell what was going on. I couldn’t understand why everyone thought this guy was such a terrific writer, with his attention to every gesture or nuance in a character’s speech or mannerism (he couldn’t just say, “he got a drink of water”?), every frog croak, every breeze and where it went and who it hit and what they thought when it hit them. I almost gave up and figured I could “act” as though I’d completed it, since the cheat sheet told me how it came out. But I made it through.

And got that buzz. So I moved straight on into Absalom, Absalom! Halfway through I realized I wasn’t crosschecking anymore. I had developed the ear. I was even talking to myself in “Faulkner-ese.” And I was seeing it and hearing it and understanding why it’s so important that the reader knows what Faulkner is trying to say about that character.

And here I thought he was just showing off.

So I read Faulkner like I read everyone else now and sometimes forget it is still “required reading” (or “unrequired, never-read”) for a lot of people. (That sounds like intellectual snobbery – I don’t mean it to be. I have a friend who reads philosophy like a kid reads comic books. To each his own, as they say…).

Heir II is named for Faulkner, partially anyway, though it’s not something he appreciates just yet. But I have high hopes for his brain once some of the testosterone fog of adolescence clears a bit.

Editor's Note: Sisiggy's brother John Boy, should he read this (which may or may not happen, seeing at reading is involved), will be shaking his head. He can leave a book store without making a purchase. To him, required reading is the writing before you sign your name on doctor's forms. John Boy only reads tour pamphlets, contemplating ways to make an exciting historical event as boring as possible while perhaps making it physically taxing as well. You can read his blog, but there isn't much there since he might have to go back and read what he wrote and that would also be too much reading.


Spicy McHaggis said...

You may be right....I absolutely hate that name! It's too easy to change into....other things.....

Jagosaurus said...

My theory is that Faulkner is someone who knew REALLY good stories but couldn't write worth a damn. I find his books terribly frustrating, frustrating enough to have launched more than a few of them across the room.

My grat aunt says she isn't old enough to read Faulkner yet. Hee!

Dark Garden said...

Yeah John Boy.

You suck, dude.

Dark Garden said...

Hey Fauker!

You suck too!

Hick said...

I homeschooled my oldest through high school so I had all kinds of required reading. I got burned out on it when he graduated and I switched to Dean Koontz novels (my bad). Now, my interest is beginning to return to the masters...I'm not sure if I want to tackle Faulkner, though.

John Boy said...

I make my own book.

John Boy said...

Chilli's ......