Having just finished a grueling month of reading ten of the books I had checked out from the library, I think it might be time to reflect a little on the act of reading and some of its effects. Particularly in the last few days, I have found myself feeling a certain way that I don’t completely understand. Challenging myself to read a book every three days added immensely to the way the emotions and plots of books seeped into my everyday life, and I’m not sure it was a very good thing.
I was an English major at Colorado College, so I am used to reading a lot in a short amount of time. The block plan, in which you have three and a half weeks of one class at a time and then it’s finished, allows you to focus on a subject, but you might find yourself too imbued in it to think straight about other things. One particular time that I found myself going a little crazy from literature and the criticism of it was during my senior seminar.
My senior seminar had the broad but intriguing focus of narratology. Lots of unreliable narrators, discussions on how a story is put together, and a wide range of texts. I remember one particular week during which I had to read Patrimony by Philip Roth and several literary analyses of horror films, along with another text. The night I finished Patrimony, a book which I absolutely loathed, I cried and cried about the ending and the whole story and probably about not getting enough sleep, too. When I went down to our apartment’s kitchen to make a late supper, my roommate Andi was there, and I started crying all over again when she asked me what I was upset about. That alone might not sound too crazy, but the next night she scared me to death in the kitchen because I’d been reading about horror films. Luckily, she understood that my senior seminar was fairly demanding, or I think my hysteria might have scared her off.
This month, I have been trying to find a new apartment, since my lease ends at the beginning of July. That is a very important factor in this month of reading. All my tension, nostalgia, sentimentality, and anger at people who try to scam you by saying they need a good tenant who loves God because they are moving from Prague to South Africa to be missionaries and cannot keep an eye on the property, became wrapped up together and found their outlet in different ways depending on what I was reading.
A week or two ago, a welcome escape came in the form of the nonfiction book Fakebook, which is a first-person account of how a man in his mid-twenties decided to make up a story on Facebook about leaving his job to travel the country. I would recommend this story about Dave Cicirelli’s prank, which ended up inspiring people and causing Cicirelli to reevaluate what he himself wanted in life. As a person with a sometimes frustrating job and no prospects for a place to live in July, I was hooked. It made it easier to look for apartments during the day, because in the evening, I could go home and read this book. I’d think, “Well, maybe I’ll just leave the country and go teach English in Eastern Europe if I can’t find a place.”
The happy medium for this month of reading was The Mysterious Benedict Society. I thought it was the best book I’ve read in a while, with a great writing style, amusing characters, and a story that is intelligent. This book didn’t make me moody, or start crying, or think about running away. It was a great escape just reading Stewart’s book. I didn’t have any way of relating it to my own life, or envying the characters. I just read it and enjoyed it.
On the bad end of the spectrum, I have for the past few days been reading Save the Date, by Jen Doll. It is a nonfiction account of Doll’s experiences of some of the weddings she has been to in her life. Reviews said it was a funny book, but to me it sounds almost preachy at times, and I think more than anything, I’m just not in the right mood for it now. Feeling homeless and directionless doesn’t mesh well with sympathizing with a character who sounds a little worried about ending up alone. She is also a little older than me, which rather than being comforting, has made me forget that I still have a lot of time to settle down in work and life.
Sometimes you read about a particular topic or learn something new, and then it seems to come up everywhere. Every chapter in Jen Doll’s book is about a different wedding she attended and what she was experiencing at the time. Seemingly everything I watch now is about marriage. Yesterday I watched the movie Jesse and Celeste Forever, which was great, but not entirely reassuring. Then today I watched an episode of “Sherlock” which involved a wedding. Unfortunately, sometimes even when you know why you are feeling a certain way, you can’t keep the crazy from coming out. Even while I read Patrimony, I knew what I was sad about, but it still affected the way I saw other things. With reading Save the Date, I knew I was in a strange mood, but it took me quite a while to figure out what was causing it, and then I still couldn’t help it.
Books are wonderful ways to escape, to see other perspectives, to experience different things in a way. This month has reminded me, though, just how easy it can be to get swept up in the books you are reading and forget what you are really feeling and experiencing. A book can amplify the feelings of distress or worry or happiness you already feel, or turn your mood around completely. I think for the next month, I will focus on real things and read just a little bit less. Or at least read happy books.