So, this is my third blog post today. If I add up the word count, I probably would have been better off working on my National Novel Writing Month book, which is now roughly 5000 words behind schedule. However, I have vowed to do this “Books that Inspire” thing, even though I’m not feeling all that inspired at the moment.
When I set out to do this Post-a-day challenge, I brainstormed the books that really affected me. I had 20 books without even really trying to wrack my brains to come up with them. I wrote them all down on a sheet of paper, and I’ve added a few more in the past week. I know I will end up with 30+ books (I’m not counting the individual books in a series, and I lumped three books into one post for my Great Russian Novels post). But some books are just easier to read than others.
Among my least favorite books to read have been the ones that were foisted upon me by well-meaning English teachers. These were the books of high school English classes, and many of them are still on today’s curriculum (can we all agree that it’s time to put aside The Scarlet Letter, for example). The truth is that even great literature can leave an aftertaste when you’re force-fed. Thus it is I reminisce today (with the aforementioned lack of inspiration) about three books I read in high school that I absolutely detested and railed against at the time, for no other reason than I had to read them to maintain my straight-A (in the non-Hester Prynne sense) average.
Specimen #1—The Good Earth
In yesterday’s post, I spoke about works of art that I just didn’t get, and this book was probably the very first instance when art bitch slapped me. I was senseless, and not in a profound way. Maybe it was the foreignness of the book, which tells of a male Chinese peasant in the 1920s. None of those factors really resonated with the 17-year-old me. And let’s just say infanticide should not be on the menu for an impressionable teen (no, I have not killed either of my children as a result, but still!). I vaguely had the impression that Pearl S. Buck was an incredibly gifted writer, but I never could get into this novel. Since she later went on to receive a Nobel Prize, I probably should revisit the tale now that I’m all grown up.
Specimen #2—The Grapes of Wrath
What do I remember about this book? One thing. The parallel stories. Every other chapter was a different point of view sandwiched between chapters of standard narrative. Since my novel has this exact same structure, I guess this American classic left its imprint on me. Oh, yeah, and people in it were hungry. And I think there was something about Route 66.
Specimen #3—All Quiet on the Western Front
My 11th grade English teacher probably had a few issues, which may be why we were stuck in the dust bowl/Great Depression/messy wars involving death set in or shortly after WWI on three different continents. If I weren’t already a suicidal teen (I was), it’s amazing that the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am of Buck/Steinbeck/Remarque didn’t push me over the edge. But this book just bugged the shit out of me. Why did the author spell “Erich” with an “H”? Why was his middle name “Maria”? And why the fuck was a dude constantly being shot at writing in his journal in present tense?!? I mean, sorry chef, but pick up a gun and shoot back or something! Stop writing in that damn journal and get in a fox hole. I guess I didn’t appreciate present tense narrative at the time, but since my novel has a present tense section—again—I am forced to admit that this book did impact me as a writer.
So, go out and love some literature. Or not. I won’t make you read these books, but even required writing can leave an indelible mark.