Monday, December 20, 2010

Eat, Read, Talk

For some years, my wife craved shrimp.  I have a photo of her at turn one of Watkins Glen International Race Track (it was during a weekend of races for "classic" sports cars) in a folding recliner with a bowl of shrimp and cocktail sauce.  She looks happy.  One day she announced, "That's it.  I am done with shrimp."  It must have been almost five years ago.  And she hasn't had a shrimp since.  This past term I had a student in my seminar who read the way my wife eats (or used to eat) shrimp:  find an author, read absolutely everything you can find by him or her until you are sated and can no longer bear the thought of another bit of this prose or poetry.  It's an interesting approach.  I couldn't do it.

It brought up the issue of how reading and what we read can be compared to our diet.  Are we classic meat and potatoes?  Or exotic flavors?  Do we think about trying a new dish?  Or do we stick the old and proven stand byes?  Are we adventurous or comfortable in our individual ruts? (I tried tongue for the first time at a Basque restaurant in Idaho -- I liked it.)  And once we make a choice, do we stick with it or do we try a taste and then toss it away if it does not sit well (I confess that I did that with one book -- that I remember -- during my reading life -- I started to read A Confederacy of Dunces -- I got through about a 100 or so pages and then just tossed the book -- not a good thing for a literature professor to admit).  And what makes us say, as my wife, "Enough!"

This led to a discussion of how a reading list (menu) should come with one of those plates with dividers for the separate components of the meal (like the old tv dinners or the new microwave gourmet meals).  And then whether it's ok if the portion in one compartment flows into the next (a kind of intertextuality?).

Ok.  It was not the most profound discussion of reading, but it did, somewhat oddly,  connect with students who are always looking for ways of compartmentalizing their lives so that the whole becomes easier to adjust.  My students weren't so willing to push the metaphor, but they did see a kind of point.  And they started, perhaps, to think about reading as a matter of both settled "taste" and exotic seasoning.  That might just pull them away from an overriding sense of the sameness of school reading (like school lunches of the past?).  And they might start to think a bit more playfully with the very idea of why and what and how we read. 

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