16 October 2010

a directive

For the American Moderns class I took in university, I had a professor named Geoffrey Rans. He told my class... being our lecturer, he told the class a lot of things, but I made a point of writing down something he told us as he was assigning our mid-term essays:

Go for the authors you like.
Celebrate them.
Justify them.

When you've got four senior-level mid-term essay assignments staring you in the face, that's very heady stuff.

It's dangerous to pin a change in direction to a remark a prof makes off-the-cuff, but the truth is my attitude towards books has become a lot more extroverted since then. In elementary and high school, I thought of books as secrets only I got to know. Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang? I took it out of the school library so many times in a row that Mrs. Zimmer, our librarian, forgot to stamp the renewal date on the card once and I got in trouble for it being overdue. I now own a copy of the same edition that was in Brisbane Public School way back when. But I don't remember telling anyone why it was so great. 

Ten years later I was doing the same thing with another of Mordecai Richler's when I read Joshua Then and Now. To be fair, I tried to tell a few people about that one, but I got a lot of eye-rolling and, "But it's not for a class? Are you nuts?" in return.

Consequently, I never tried to tell anyone about Oh Happy Death, at least not until my friend Deb played Crocodiles by Echo & the Bunnymen for me. And I never did find an excuse to rave about how great La Peste was (still tied for first with L'Etranger in my personal Camus list).

Still, one tries, and one does improve. A big milestone was when I was able to rant about Samuel Beckett's Murphy and Watt so successfully that a co-worker thought they were films (um, it wasn't an office where people read much). Speaking of films, it was a lot of fun to tell people that if they liked Cronenberg's takes on Naked Lunch and Crash, then they really should read the books. Somewhat evil, but fun.

This past year I've waved copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, You and the Pirates, and Dark Matter under other readers' noses and tried to make it very, very clear that it was important to their lives to read these books. Dark Matter itself was a gift from the ever-literary Howard & Rhonda.

I remember thinking, even as I scribbled down what Rans had said in the top margin of my notebook, that it was odd the phrase he used was, "Go for the authors you like," instead of "Go for the books you like." For most readers, most of the time, it's the book they know, not the author of it.

Right now I'm reading Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril, and I think I'm finally starting to understand. Reading it isn't just learning about an amazing science fiction writer —  it's re-learning all those SF books I used to take out of the public library and nosh through the way the other twelve-year-olds used to nosh through a bag of Pop Rocks. It's hard to believe now, but I was the only girl I knew who read science fiction.

But that's the best part: if you go for the authors you like, justify them, and celebrate them, you will find other readers like you, and the amount of justifying and celebrating will only increase from there.

1 comment:

  1. Your prof would be so happy that you retained that so many years later! I did Canadian Studies in my undergrad and one of our star profs impressed upon us "listen to at least 3 hours of CBC Radio a day."

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