Join me in welcoming Bronwyn Lea to MMD.
I was the little girl with her nose in a book.
There were girls with Barbies, girls with ponies, girls with sparkly pens and girls with sticker collections. But I was the girl with a book. My mom says I started reading just shy of my third birthday, and some of my most cherished childhood friends were creations of the fantastic world of fiction.
No one was more surprised than me, then, to discover that I did not enjoy English literature at school. Thinking perhaps high school lackluster lessons were to blame, I signed up for English Lit in my first year at college. I lasted one semester, and called it quits.
This raised confusing questions. If I loved reading books, why did I not love the literature that was supposed to be the “best” the English language had to offer? Why, when I heard something described as a “classic”, did I immediately write it off? “I love to immerse myself in reading,” I explained to others. “I just don’t like analyzing it to death. It takes the fun out of it.”
And so it was that I decided against reading any more of the classics. I found the characters distasteful , and (with the exception of Jane Austen), the stories unenjoyable. Why read those anymore if I didn’t have to?
But then, a few weeks ago, everything changed when I found myself immersed in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior’s combination of beautiful memoir and masterful literature review.
In it, Prior tells her coming of age story, the tale of how God wooed her to himself through the words of the literary greats. Chapter by chapter, she unwraps the truths she learned about beauty, marriage, sex, love, stories and sentiment, worship and wonder: all lessons she learned from reading the classics. Great Expectations taught her the magic of telling stories, Jane Eyre about becoming. Each chapter introduces one of the classics I had dismissed, and in each chapter she showed me something I had not dreamed I would see. It seems a cliché to say it, but it is true: I laughed. I cried.
I realized some time ago that not all enjoyable movies were “good” movies, and that there were some movies which were excellent and important – but they were not necessarily enjoyable. For some reason, I had not yet learned that lesson about literature.
Reading Booked left me with a longing to see what Prior saw. The idea that fiction could be deeply uncomfortable or even outright unpleasant, and yet still be excellent and worth my time, was a new thought.
It’s been half a lifetime since I dropped that final English literature class, but I’m thinking that with nearly twenty years of life under my belt, maybe it’s time for me to read the classics again. With more questions. With more maturity. With less demand for entertainment, and perhaps more readiness for enlightenment.
So far, I’ve read Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It was hellishly long, but gave an insight into the human condition I didn’t think was possible using just words. Then I jumped back into my comfort zone and read Simsion’s The Rosie Project in one sitting. Right now, I’m reading the classic Prior unwrapped in chapter 9 of Booked: Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. I’m halfway in, and I’m reading with eyes wide open. I’m hooked.
It’s not quite accurate to say I’m giving the classics a second chance. Perhaps it would better to say I’m giving myself a second chance with the classics. I’m older now. I have less answers and more questions. I’m willing to listen.
Some things change: I’m a lot bigger now, and the print is a lot smaller. But some things stay the same: I’m still the girl with my nose in a book.
Bronwyn Lea is a book-lover, blog-writer, Pinterest-phobe and South-African-accented-speaker. She spends her days keeping her three littles fed and watered. Her writing has appeared at Think Christian, Start Marriage Right, and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. She blogs at www.bronlea.com, or you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter. She’d be thrilled if you said hi.