Monday, March 23, 2015

When reading for pleasure isn't

Last night in a social setting I struggled to respond to a simple question: "What are you reading these days?" It's true that I'm reading a lot, but I'm always reading a lot--reading is what I do, and I occasionally have to stop and thank my lucky stars that I found an employer willing to pay me for pursuing my love of reading.

But there's a difference between reading for pleasure and reading for work, and right now I'm finding much more pleasure in my work-related reading than elsewhere.

Thanks to some kind of harmonic convergence of syllabi, my three classes have recently been tackling A Streetcar Named Desire, The Awakening, and Their Eyes Were Watching God--and the Streetcar class today switched over to Fences. Last week I found myself asking similar questions in all three classes and wondering what would happen if Blanche Dubois, Edna Pontellier, Janie Woods, and Rose Maxson could sit down for a chat while their assorted menfolk play a game of poker in the next room. What could be more fun than that?

But my casual reading has been significantly less delightful lately. In search of a different text for the Sports Literature class, I read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, which offers many amusing moments but falls apart about halfway through. No chance I'll assign this book for a freshman literature class--first, because it's more than 400 pages long, and second, because I doubt that first-semester students in a Sports Lit class are capable of discussing a sexual fling between a college president and a college baseball player with any degree of maturity. And besides, if I make anyone read a 450-page book, they had better be some pretty riveting pages, which these often aren't.

So forget sports; let's take a look at Happy are the Happy by Yasmina Reza: interesting characters, compelling voices, unusual structure, but in the end I just can't care about these people's lives or their affairs or their cheese preferences. I'm just over halfway through, so I've committed too much time to the book to just abandon it altogether, but I have to force myself to keep reading.

But guess what's coming up next in my classes? The Red Badge of Courage! Life of Pi! Short stories by Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, and Jhumpa Lahiri! Now that's exciting! How could my non-work-related reading possibly live up to that level of pleasure?  


Bardiac said...

Have you read Time Krabbe's The Rider? It's about a bike race, and it's pretty darned good, and pretty short, too. Most of your students have probably ridden a bike, but not raced, so they'd have some idea. You could even show them a race on youtube (or part of a race). (I may be biased!) But it would be something different from the mostly ball sports our culture supports.)

Bev said...

Great suggestion! I haven't read it, but it looks great. I've ordered a copy to review. Thanks!