People often wonder how I can be such a HUGE book lover, and yet, have read so few popular classics. I just, in 2017, started really reading with C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens. Today, I realized why I struggled as a student to read those required books in English Literature: it was the dreaded book report.
I get it, Western Civilization is centered on the belief that literature and art are made to be critiqued. But, nothing ruins art, especially a good book or song, than reading a review prior to experiencing it on my own and/or having to read a book trying to come to same conclusion as the teacher/expert/reviewer.
AS A STUDENT, I WAS NOT FREE TO ENJOY LITERATURE. I was there to comprehend it, through this very narrow, Eurocentric lens, that never really felt genuine to my reactions or interpretations of the “required great classics.” (I could write a whole book on Ernest Hemingway and how his reputation as “the Great American author” have ruined all his books for me.) So for most of rmy eading life, I have strugglee with traditional western classics: from Plato to Mark Twain.
The truth is, I didn’t agree with my teachers and don’t agree with literature experts on the meanings, symbolism, or even quality/non-quality, of most popular, traditional “book reviews.” And, its because my life experience gives me a different lens in which I interpret the world BUT especially Western Civilization and its folklore.
I am Black. I am a woman. I come from a people who have been exploited, oppressed, and almost erased in most “Classic Literature.”
I, unapologetically, read, analyze, and draw meaning from symbolism, in ALL books with the viewpoint of my experience as a Black woman.
Lately, I have been going book buying/reading crazy! There is something freeing about being able to read a book without worrying about writing a “book report” that will be graded on my ability to grasp concepts, ideas, and main ideas, from people other than the author. I could care less if you have PhD from Fancy, Artsy, Fartsy University in English Literature, you don’t get to tell me how to understand, feel, and like/dislike art. I can create my own interpretation of a book or any work of art, and your need to “grade my analysis of your analysis” is bullshit.
I decide what the book means to me. Me.
Whew, I can’t wait to share this epiphany with my therapist!
To the other Black students and Students of Color who don’t “get” the “classic literature,” you are not alone. The main idea and symbolism that you get in a book will probably be different from your teacher, AND THAT’S OKAY. It’s more than okay; it is the true experience of art to interpret it yourself.
Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last! (too much?)