Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Let`s discuss literature

Ok, I know, I said would have written yesterday, but once again I fell asleep on my PC. What`s wrong with me? I don`t know...according to the doctor, I`m just fine. I hope he`s right...Anyway, today I`m a little better than I was yesterday, even though I`m still a little tired, so I won`t be able to write too much (lucky you, right?).
In my last post I told you I had read another interesting article about Books and Literature. Joe Queenan wrote an interesting -and, in my opinion, hilarious - essay on those questions that come at the end of paperback books. Most certainly, when you finished the book, you also give a look at those pages in the end and you might end up reading the set of questions that some editors publish to promote the book discussion. In itself, I do agree with this idea: it is very important to finish a book and to have something to say about it. It is sad, instead, not having anything to say when we finish the book. Yes, because, you see, reading a book is not about being passive receivers of the information that the book contains. We need to be active in our reading activity, we need to interact with every page,every line of the book, because this means interacting with the very author in the book. Yes, interacting with the writer is possible, I would say fundamental. Everything goes back to this question: "why do writers write?". Do you really think that writers would go through all the troubles of writing a 300 pages novel if they didn`t have anything to say? Writers do have something to say, and it is not something easy to understand. This is why we have to build a dialogue with the book, because only through dialog we can really understand and learn something from the writer. Starting from the premise that we do need to create a dialog with the text in order to understand it, some editors decide to facilitate our jo as readers giving us the questions that we should ask ourselves and th book. The idea is very admirable, but the way it is put into practice is not as pleasant. The questions that can help build a dialog with the text should also stimulate us to dig into the text and read in between the lines. As Joe Queenan shows us, though, it seems that the questions we see in our paperbacks are far from accomplishing their purpose. Citing a couple of examples will help you understand what I mean:
  • “Would divorce and remarriage have helped Anna Karenina? If Anna had lived in our time, how might her story have been different?” (in Anna Karenina)
  • “Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was asked how he could explain the killing of six million Jews. He answered, ‘One hundred dead are a catastrophe, a million dead are a statistic.’ Have we become more or less tolerant of murder since he made this observation?” (in The Diary of Anne Frank)
  • “Have you ever seen a movie version in which the woman playing Jane was, as Austen imagined her, truly more beautiful than the woman playing Elizabeth? Who doesn’t love Elizabeth Bennett?!! (in Pride and Prejudice)
  • “What do you make of Hyde’s appearance? (He is small and subtly deformed.) Do you think he should have been depicted as tall and hypermuscular, or obese and debauched, or pale and cadaverous? Why? (Or why not?) Is there a specific meaning in, or reason for, Hyde’s appearance?”
Joe Queenan tried himself to see if he would become a good paperback writer:
  • If it took Odysseus 10 years to make a short trip across a microscopic body of water, why does everyone in “The Odyssey” keep insisting he’s so smart?
  • If Heathcliff were alive today, would he mention Cathy’s death on his Facebook page and change his relationship status to “It’s complicated”?
The really funny thing is that, reading Queenan`s artcle, I realizes I myself had to make up a lot of questions to promote discussions in my classes. Personally, i`ve always tried to do a good job, ut now I`m not so sure aout my results. Did my students make fun of me? Were my questions just too stupid?


Emmanuele said...

I've some questions to...for example:"What would be happen if Aidi didn't go to Pennsylvania?"...and..."does finally Holden meet Jane?" really Montalbano in love with Livia?, yes, ur friend Joe is right, if u really loved a book first when u finish it u are sad..and second u have a lot of questions that u'd like to ask to the for all: "Please J.K., let Harry Potter story continue!!" ;)

adry mendes said...

I know...I feel that too, but I don`t agree. The writer doesn`t own the book...we, reader, have an important part in making the book have some meaning. Actually, the same book acquires different meaning to different people.
And please, J.K., don`t write any more Harry Potters!! You got me addicted...