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On Reading Classics

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I'm reading Moby Dick this term. I'm lucky enough to be able to participate in a study run by the London Lit Salon, which is awesome, by the way. It's a part of my unofficial quest to read everything, or at least, to read the classics, "must-reads" of English literature. I read terribly slowly, mostly because English is not my first language but also probably because I can't skip words or sections.

I know a lot of people who skip sections of the book they find boring or stop reading a book they don't connect to in the middle. I can't do that. I think both of these come from the same place, which is a deep belief that written words have meaning. I have almost a reverence the written word. When I was a kid, drawing or marking a book was so out of the question, it wasn't even a thing. It was just something you didn't do. We wrapped all of our school books at the beginning of every year, and we treated them like treasures. Same with the library books. I think this was partly because the books weren't ours, but partly it was the reverence of the books. Smart people write books, so we should respect the books and the writers.

When I was in university, I reluctantly began using a highlighter in my textbooks because a) I bought them and, b) these were books that meant for learning, and highlighting helped me learn. Well, it helped me not to have to read the whole thing again when I was revising. I still can only make comments on books in pencil and very lightly, so that I can erase them later (I never did). It's not a rational thing.

In addition to the reverence for the written word, I think it's about my lack of confidence. When my partner doesn't like a book, he says he doesn't like the book. I usually think that maybe I misunderstood the book, the author's intention, or I missed the symbolism, etc. Taking literature classes helped me see that, yes, sometimes I miss some of the symbolism or the intention or whatever. Still, often, I don't, and I also often see things that others don't necessarily see, probably because I read very carefully.

So, reading Moby Dick has been, at times, a struggle. I find that a strong editor is sorely missing from this book. And, yes, I get that it's a classic, but if people don't read it even though the story is very much alive and has entered the culture, to me, an editor would have made a big difference. There are quite a few chapters I would have cut as Melville's editor.


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