I am reading The Parade’s End Tetralogy. I love it. I am at 90 pages, and the book is fantastic. I have been raving about it to everyone I who has stopped to say one word to me. It’s a really clever book, and I want to share that magic. I am disappointed at myself that my first impression was an unfavourable one. But, I think I have that way about me. I tend to dislike first before I fully love. For instance, Mika. The first time I heard Mika and saw his videos, I thought it was ludicrous. I was in high school. I was catching a few minutes of music videos on the television, and he was dancing with a fluorescent light tube. Judged. I was the judge, jury, and executioner. Did not like him. At all. But then, I saw his video again, maybe a week later. I looked it up on youtube.
A life-long longing was thus imbibed. I really liked his music and his character. I liked his fluidity of character. I liked that he was sexually ambiguous–in every way. In a world of rules and meaning, he just went with this ridiculous flow. He liked Freddie Mercury. He liked Grace Kelly. He told big girls they were beautiful. He did that for his mom and his sister. How could you not like the guy? It even began a life-long battle over who has rights to him between my best friend and I. I found him first! haha. *mmhhhhmm, but all her looks were too sad. So I tried a little Freddie. I’ve gone identity mad.* I just really loved this song. I loved what it was saying without saying it. That we create identities and niches for the world to consume, rather than for our own consumption and joy. The unfair world also inscribes prejudices and disadvantage for many.
Let’s bring this back to reading. I suspect that, for me, reading is this undeniable consumption of joy and pleasure. Not always. Sometimes, you have to read A LOT of drivel before you get to the book that makes your heart race and has all those chemicals in your brain swirling in a soupy tub of pink mess. Yes, authors put these ideas out there to be consumed–hopefully profitably (Thanks to Charles Dickens’s work on copyrighting texts; check out Nicholas Nickleby ALSO, check out Edward Lloyd, who ridiculously plagiarised Dickens and also published Sweeney Todd). Sorry, that was rather a stupendous tangent. Anyway, I was using Mika’s Grace Kelly as a metaphor for reading and satisfying yourself rather than seeking to find the approval of others. Most people won’t really care about all the books you’ve read. I’ve read many books, and a lot of people I know probably don’t care or don’t think it’s important. That doesn’t make them bad people, because it doesn’t make me a bad person that I don’t read for them or for their approval. I do it for me. Often, I will try to make others engage with a text for which I’ve fallen, but that can be met with boredom, contempt, denial, and avoidance. But, if a book makes you happy, you’ve got to share that joy. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Mika dancing with STUPID FLUORESCENT LIGHTS!
Haha. One time, I went for a 57 KM bike ride with not enough water on a REALLY uncomfortable bike. So, I was racing back to try and catch the ferry back to the mainland. Well, I started to sing Mika’s song Blue Eyes at the top of my lungs. I had been alone for most of the day. And this moment, an act of desperation to the gods of mercy and love and endurance, this man with calves the size of small cows rides past me in all his glory. I almost fell off my bike. Haha. Too funny.
My particular taste in books is 19th-century Victorian and postcolonial authors. So, I tend to fluctuate between those genres. The Age of Empire (with many authors denying this or hiding their privilege behind other privileges or even blatant racism) in contradistinction to postcolonial authors who sometimes choose to use opacity to reclaim the system. I get it. I appreciate it. Sometimes, we want people to have to work to understand us. If they won’t work for it, would they be there for the tough bits. In my experience, no. At the same time, there is nothing more refreshing than a clearly stated argument. So, I will make that my mantra and caution to others. *nods in a supremely wise manner* *pokes eye on computer screen*
What I find most fascinating about this, and I am going to refer to a quote from the book I’m currently reading, Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End. I’ll get to my convoluted point hereafter.
And Tietjens, who hated no man, in the face of this simple-minded and agreeable schoolboy type of fellow, fell to wondering why it was that humanity that was next to always agreeable in its units was, as a mass, a phenomenon so hideous. You look at a dozen men, each of them not by any means detestable and not uninteresting, for each of them would have technical details of their affairs to impart; you formed them into a Government or a club and at once, with oppressions, inaccuracies, gossip, backbiting, lying, corruptions and vileness, you had the combination of wolf, tiger, weasel and louse-covered ape that was human society. And he remembered the words of some Russian: ‘Cats and monkeys. Monkeys and cats. All humanity is there.’
(Parade’s End, 79)
To me this problematises how we read things. If a Person tells you a story, you learn from them by the way they use language, the analogies employed, the mumbles and stumbles over certain vocabularies and styles. If a storyteller shares an excerpt with you, you may also learn things about their style, register, and motivations. But when a Person shares a story, you acquire a personal connection with them. When a storyteller shares a story, we are at a further remove than a personal connection. Does it matter that they drafted and edited the story? For all we know, we’re not the first one to hear the Person’s story. Maybe they’ve embellished, added or cut for time or suspense. When we hear the story face-to-face, are we more willing to trust it from the source? Or are we more likely to question tone and meaning? If they say that they are empathetic, but there is a weird twist to their smile that seems questionable, do we then not trust them? If we are removed from the storyteller’s tale, we may not feel threatened in the same way by the (lack of) personal connection. I don’t know. We are always careful not to read too much into the author’s link to a text. Freud is debunked. But ask any scholar, and they’ll tell you that’s a lie. Pick up Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, or (my favourite) Kristeva– Freud is there in one way or another. Instead of trying to understand the author, because we feel that it has long since served a true purpose to the understanding-industry, we focus on character. Maybe this is where we leave off with Paul Auster’s anti-character in City of Glass. Will the real Paul Auster–imposter–please stand up?!
So books and storytellers are, then, the ways we can learn to see the world as a vault of individuals, rather than seeing it as a depraved mass of peoples. Isn’t that always the case? We put our fears before our hearts. Compassion never stands a chance? The rich fear the destructive powers of the proletariat. Whites think everything will go to pot if things get ‘too equal’. Men claim that women just want to eat cake. Straights think gay peoples will make them gay. But all of these things are false assumptions. Claims based on faulty evidence and fuelled by fear. Everyone says you need to be acclimatized to your fears. Well, before you put that spider near me….challenge your own fears. Okay?
Ultimately, this is the beauty of reading. Thinking. Perhaps, we don’t glean much of the true meaning of anything through these exercises of placing the verbs in the right spot and recognizing an author’s nuance, but we do get pleasure. That’s worthy too.
So, I’m about to let my heart swell and my mind dance. What book are you reading?