Since I’ve finished my undergraduate work, I’ve been trying to do all the reading that I somehow escaped or wasn’t assigned. Somehow I made it through four years of high school, four years in the Marine Corps, and four years of college without reading any of Shakespeare’s history plays, any Faulkner, little to no post-modernism, and the list goes on. Recently I’ve been reading Light in August by William Faulkner and I’m surprised by how much I love reading it (although it is taking me forever as I keep having to take breaks every couple of days). But what I think I love about reading this stuff that they teach in college is that I finally get to read it on my own time and I don’t have to worry about writing a paper about it later. I don’t need to know who said what line on a test, and I don’t need to over analyze potential themes or even look that deep into the characters. I finally get to read all of this stuff through the lens of the common reader. I’m not saying common reader as any kind of insult at all. But I’m just saying that reading something academically and reading something for the sheer enjoyment of it are two different things. There have been a few rare times when I got to combine the two (one such time was during a Beat Writers class). And of course I’m not bashing the academic lens of reading either. But it can take a lot of the enjoyment out of it.
I remember when I was at the Marine Corps School of Infantry and one of my combat instructors told all of us something along the lines of, “After you finish this course, you’ll never look at a Hollywood movie again. You’ll see every mistake they make filming. Their fingers won’t even be on the trigger. That’s not how you prep a grenade. That’s not how C4 works. M16s don’t cause three story explosions,” and on and on. I feel like that a little bit after majoring in English Language and Literature. I can’t hear music lyrics anymore without catching every cliché, or poorly thought out rhyme scheme. God help you if you want me to read any of your poems, and please do not force them upon me on Facebook. I’m not even going to bore you with all of the other things that I could write about Facebook. Let’s not even touch it. I feel like movies have been somewhat ruined also. I feel like I catch on to things that are supposed to be revealed to the viewer way later. If there’s a killer, I usually know who it is just by thinking about the decisions that the writer had to have made. I don’t watch the TV show anymore, I translate the show into the decisions the writer made and what he decided to put down. It’s a really weird side effect.
Now that I’m done with the literature aspect of my education, I feel like I have to tune certain things out. The religious imagery and biblical allusions in Light in August are everywhere, and those are pretty easy to ignore. And if I just leave them there, I won’t have to get into academic mode and try to figure out where the story is going and what is going to happen. I won’t have to wonder if Faulkner is going to repeat certain aspects of the biblical story or if he is going to do something different with them. I shouldn’t have to think of the author filling the role of God, creating things as he goes and being inventive with his use of language (creating new compound words and some of the most grammatical and longest sentences I’ve ever read). Or the fact that Faulkner created the entire world in which these characters live, Yoknapatawpha County. I shouldn’t have to question the existence of freewill in his characters, or even the author’s godlike omnipotent presence, or the meaning behind Joe’s last name (it’s Christmas) or any other characters’ names. I should be able to just sit down and read, right?