My Weather Reading Dilemma

My favorite poem, The Charm of 5:30, by David Berman, opens with the line, "It is too nice a day to read a novel set in England." When I read that line a few years ago, I immediately understood where Berman was coming from and what he meant by it. While I was majoring in English at Northern Illinois University, I decided that I wanted my focus to be in British literature -- particularly from the Victorian era (a la Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy). Sadly, this choice of focus turned me into a bit of a downer.

The grey skies, the rain, the love loss, the death, the class struggle, the factory chimneys, billowing the smoke of workers' dreams during the Industrial Revolution. Everything about this era of literature festers with heartache and dismay. And this is exactly the type of mood I hope to avoid when the sun in shining, the breeze is gentle and the kids are shouting happily in their front yards. No, this type of reading is usually reserved for days that are best for staying inside and wondering why everyone else isn't doing the same.

Of my top five favorite authors (1) James Joyce, 2) Ernest Hemingway, 3) John Steinbeck, 4) Charles Dickens and 5) (it alternates)), only Steinbeck is worth considering on bright, sunshiney days like today: Joyce is a complete downer who writes about rebellion and religious abuse. And even then, his writing is so experimental and difficult to get through that one hesitates to ever read him, regardless of weather; Hemingway is a beautiful writer and a master storyteller. Unfortunately, his books make one want to lay down on the floor, in the fetal position, and just scream; Dickens is a fantastic wordsmith, but a definite killjoy. He treats his characters like shit for half of the book, then drags them THROUGH shit for the second half. At the end of a Dickens novel, you sigh, exasperatedly, and think "Thank God I'm not THAT guy."

Poor Pip...

Steinbeck also has his share of flawed characters and despair, but the sun is always shining in his novels, so you never feel TOO bad for the characters. "Man, the Joads have a long road ahead, but at least the weather is great!" Joblessness and homelessness doesn't seem too bad when you're kicking around in the California sunshine.

Sadly, most of the books in my library I've either already read or are weather sensitive; and, since I most appreciate autumn weather, most of my unread books are complementary (Victorians and Moderns). I have discovered, though, that unless it's an Irish author like Frank McCourt or Pete McCarthy, memoirs are fantastic complements to great weather. For instance, today I began reading A Working Stiff's Manifesto, by Iain Levison -- a story of one frustrated English major's search for meaningful employment (which happens to be the situation I find myself in). It is one of the most bitter, but most hilarious books I've read in quite some time. Even in the coffee shop, I found myself laughing out loud at the many dead-end-job horror stories Levison chronicles. Not surprisingly, I was in a chipper mood for the rest of the day and the fabulous weather only accentuated my cheerfulness.

Now, imagine if I had read Dickens...

Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning him-self to let it eat him away. - A Tale of Two Cities

Or Joyce...

He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life's feast. - Dubliners

Or Hemingway...

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry. - A Farewell to Arms

Okay, even Steinbeck has a way of making you squirm in your chair and pine away for a happier existence...

What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster. - East of Eden

Not on a day like today -- I wouldn't allow it. When the sun is shining and birds are singing, it is too great a day to allow yourself to be sucked into the neuroses, fears and pessimisms of my favorite authors, regardless of their ranking on my "favorite authors" chart.

1 comment:

  1. What's your argument for "Adam, Eve, Inbreeding, Cavemen, and You?" It sounds interesting...

    I like your new blog design or whatever it's called. :)