Thursday, September 4, 2008

Forgive Me, Father, for I Have Sinned

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been, well, forever since I last came to the confessional, seeing as I’m not Catholic and all. But I really feel the need to get this off my chest. The guilt of it is weighing me down, Father, and I need to move on with my life. Will you help?

Oh, thank you!

My list of literary sins is long. If you need a potty break, Father, I’ll understand.

I confess that I have hated some of the Great Books of Western Civilization.

I know. It’s shocking, isn’t it? I do have a master’s degree in literature, after all. I ought to love these Great Books, ought to talk about them with reverence, and ought to honor them for their brilliance. But my heart just isn’t in these:

--The Aeneid, by Virgil (Homer, even if he never really lived, was a much better storyteller. Those Romans just couldn’t do Greek as well as the Greeks did. I loved Virgil in Dante’s Inferno, though.)

--The Song of Roland (Honestly, Father, it’s the only work of literature from the Middle Ages that I just can’t make myself like. Maybe I need to read it again. That worked with Beowulf….)

--Don Juan, by George Gordon, Lord Byron (He single-handedly killed Romanticism. Okay, not really, but oh, my poor brain.)

--In Memoriam, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Um, maybe Alfred killed Romanticism. I’m sorry for his loss, but any “Book” that makes me pinch my cheeks to stay awake is evil, no matter how “Great” it is.)

--David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens (Yes, yes, I loved Bleak House, Hard Times, A Christmas Carol, and Great Expectations, but why is DC so very, very long?)

--The Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner (Olive was a woman writer, and I am a woman—sort of a feminist, even—and should honor her for publishing a serious book in a man’s world, but I just can’t. I can’t!)

--A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen (I read it, honestly, but don’t even remember enough to make a pithy comment. Is that bad?)

--Anything and everything written by Thomas Hardy: prose, poetry, all of it … even the few pieces he wrote that I haven’t been forced to read. I really tried with Tess but just couldn’t bring myself to care anything about her. What is wrong with me, Father?

--The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane (This is a ninth-grade torture device, right?)

--A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster (Teachers must use this as punishment for all the naughty thoughts eleventh graders have. It doesn’t help.)

--The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway (Yeah, yeah, I get that Papa was a great writer and his style was revolutionary, but I just can’t care because his “revolutionary” style is so freaking depressing. And truly, the fish gets eaten by sharks. Shouldn’t the old man be grateful HE wasn’t eaten? Let’s get our priorities straight, shall we?)

--The Pearl, by John Steinbeck (At least it’s short.)

Then there are the Great Books I tried to read but just couldn’t slog through no matter how hard I worked at it. They weren’t even assigned, but I felt like I “should” read them. Oh, how very silly of me:

--William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom (I love long sentences. Usually.)

--Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (I almost finished. Does that count?)

--John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (Does the turtle ever get across the road? Never mind. I just don’t care.)

--Albert Camus’ The Plague (I only read two paragraphs, but it sat on my bookshelf for several years before going to the used book store. What’s that you say, Father? The road to hell is paved with good intentions?)

--Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (Excuse me, Father, but do you have to be on drugs to get Jack’s point with this one?)

There’s also the one assigned book that I didn’t read at all, though I wrote a reasonably competent paper on it with the help of the venerable Professor Cliff Notes in tenth grade:

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis

Finally, Father, there are many classics I never read, yet I call myself well-read. Does this make me a poser? This list could go on forever, especially where American novels and poetry are concerned. Do you think I’ve made up for those Great Books that I haven’t read by reading a lot of really obscure—but definitely Great—medieval literature? After all, the medieval period was the Age of Faith. That should count for something.

I’m certain that there are other literary sins I am neglecting to confess, but frankly, I’ve blocked them from my memory.

No, Father, I don’t sound very contrite, do I? Must I be contrite for forgiveness? Can’t I just pay a pardoner and be absolved? Oh, pardoners don’t exist anymore? What a shame. Perhaps I can take H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine back to the Middle Ages and pay a visit to Chaucer’s Pardoner. Does the machine make a stop in the Middle Ages? I can’t remember.

What did you say? You mean there’s no such thing as a literary sin? It’s not a sin to dislike Great Books? I won’t burn in Hell? I don’t have to turn in my library card? I’m not a cultural infidel?

Oh, what a relief!

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