I’m one of those compulsive, serious readers-for-pleasure, and always have been. So it surprises me how much I struggle when I’m confronted by the opportunity to write something about a book. At the sight even of something as casual as a Goodreads comment window, something in me squeezes up and says HELL TO THE NO, it’s too hard, and whatever I write will fail in any way to resemble what I actually think. Probably this traces back to one of the many banes of my childhood, the Book Report.
These probably started in 3rd grade or so–you’d be assigned to read a particular book, or else allowed to choose one for yourself–and then you had to write a Book Report when you’d finished, and hand it in for a grade. Now, this always seemed to me like a huge punishment for reading. A minority, a very small one, sometimes it seemed, just me, in my school liked to read. Not just to read in school, for school, but to read all the time, to constantly bring books back from the library, to attempt books that were too hard for me, and so on. In this was joy and wonder, excitement and curiosity. In a required Book Report, there was Topic Sentences, Plot Synopses, and Themes (pause to shudder). Having to come up with these, in paragraphs, seemed to snatch away all the richness and pride and secret accomplishment inherent in having read a book, in owning its story and characters inside my own mind, and replace it with a heap of dry Wheatena. It took the book away from me and made me belong to someone else–the teacher, and his expectations. It confiscated the marvelous story and gave me back a list of ways in which I was doing it wrong. All I wanted to do in this scenario was squirm; get it done as quickly as possible so I could back to what was really interesting: my pile of library books.
Hence, though I went on to become a college English major, a writer of fiction, and a professional copywriter, I’ve always baulked at how to “write up” my reading experiences. I’ll long to reach out to the world — even if only in the form of one or two randos on the internet — and share the real depths of my unique enthusiasm and appreciation for a novel, only to find myself throwing out a few dry sticks of stilted colorless description. (This doesn’t happen when I can talk about a book–a conversation with someone who has recently read the same book, or loves the same
Henry Jameswriters that I do, which doesn’t happen to me as often as I’d wish, is usually lively and wide-ranging and bubbling over with information, opinions, delight.)
It was with the idea of somehow overcoming this that I began this blog.
It’s giving me a lot of unease, this blog, because it’s just bringing up all these blockages and bad Book Report memories. There’s a tone and energy I’d like this blog to have that so far it completely lacks. My energies feel too po-faced, and vague. I keep changing the title of the blog, all of which strike as pretentious, and that’s a good sign that I’m still not sure what I want it to be, or how I can get it to be that way.
Maybe the title ought to just be Bad Book Report. Hmmm.
But I intend to persist.