My love/hate relationship with studying books

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 9

Book that makes you sick

I have thought long and hard about this one.  There are books that make me angry, sad, bad-tempered, even jealous, but sick? No, unless my memory fails me, I cannot recall a book that has ever made me sick.

There is one book, however, that stirs up in me such a range of emotions – envy, awe, happiness, sadness, extreme rage – that usually results in a feeling of mild to moderate nausea.  It used to be a favourite of mine, but unfortunately I decided to use it as one of the primary texts I studied for my Honours thesis.  Two years, several crappy supervisors, and 20,000 words later, I was ready to chuck any book by Umberto Eco, particularly the Name of the Rose, into a bonfire whilst chanting voodoo curses at it and participating in an eerie ceremonial dance to ensure it never arose from the ashes.  I expected my finished thesis to meet a similar fate.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

It’s a mighty shame, this loathing for a book once loved.  Umberto Eco is quite the prodigy, hence why I wanted to write my thesis on him.  Described as an Italian medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist, his masterful writing matched with his remarkable intellect is worthy of the highest praise.  He was my college brain crush, party because he is Italian (and boy do I love me some Italians), but mostly due to his creativity, his intelligence and his love for books and the written word.  He has written a number of books on writing, and has some excellent things to say about the future of books in the world of ebooks (which you can read more about in my earlier post about traditional vs new forms of publishing).

But I digress.  What I find a shame, is how often the forced (and even voluntary) intensive study of a favourite text, can often lead to a subsequent hostility towards it.  It happened time and time again in High School, with all the classics that we analysed, scanned, scrutinised and all but tore apart to arrive at the ‘true message’ within the text.  Back then, I couldn’t stand even looking at an Austen.  In bookstores I would see the orange spine of the Penguin classics section and quickly back away in fear.  The name ‘Shakespeare’ sent shivers down my spine.  But why?  Aren’t they classics for a reason?  Aren’t their messages still relevant today?  Isn’t their writing an example of great skill?

Yes.  But back then all I saw when I looked at these books was a collage of the following words:

Theme, essay, motif, essay, overview, essay, citations, essay, plot, essay, symbols, essay.  Oh, did I mention essay?

I loved English class, and to be honest I didn’t really mind writing essays, but it is just a little bit sad that we were given all these amazing books to read and never actually got to just enjoy reading them.  I understand why of course, and I learnt a lot about the aspects behind writing that I need to apply myself now that I’m writing my own book.  But writing my thesis proved to me anew how much damage over analysis can do to the simple pleasure of reading.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to pick apart a book as much as the next person, but those days at school, and the time I spent on my thesis, well, let’s just say there is a fine line between discussing various interpretations of a book, and butchering it into tiny tiny pieces and putting it back together again to form a new argument; a fine line that those study days used to fearlessly toe.

Thankfully, those High School memories have long since faded into the abyss that is my atrocious memory, leaving tortured recollections of essay writing and plot summaries behind, making room to enjoy those texts for the masterpieces that they are.  I now love Austen (see yesterday’s post), get excited when the Penguin classics are on sale and Shakespeare…well okay, I’m still a little shady about him.  Unfortunately the memory of my thesis is still too fresh to allow for such carefree reminiscing of the Eco books I once loved *she sobs in despair*.  I am confident, however, that one day that dissertation will torment me no more, and I will once again embrace the Name of the Rose and all of Eco’s texts as if I were setting my eyes upon them for the very first time.

N.B.  Although I foresee an emotional and happy reunion with the works of Eco, I can safely say that my thesis will remain banished in the furthest pits of hell, where I am sure it wickedly awaits to further torment me on my arrival.

~storytelling nomad~