Been taken away lately?

Middle school and early high school were eye-opening days for me in English class. That may have been true for many people.

There was much to take in and comprehend: A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies, The Old Man and the Sea, The Pearl, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Red Badge of Courage, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and there was always more Shakespeare waiting in the wings. And those are only a few, right?

I remember thinking: Who are these writers and how do they come up with this stuff?! I was years away from becoming a writer, but at that time was taken with the idea that when I read those pages, I was transported somewhere else.

These days, I enjoy conversations with my girls (three out of four of them are in middle school) as they discover many of those same writers, and learn more and more about the craft of writing. They’re quickly being introduced to the rich concepts of stories: theme, plot, characterization, dialogue, symbolism, just to name a few. Our evening discussions take me back and I find myself remembering an image of World War I trench warfare or Lady Macbeth damning a spot or that painful moment when Piggy’s glasses were shattered, symbolizing a certain loss of intellect.

What was so unforgettable about those stories? The complicated relationship between boarding school friends? Racism in the Deep South? The undying courage of an old Cuban battling a giant marlin on the Gulf Stream? Amazingly, so many of those mental images are still alive in my head, which is a solid testament to good writing and storytelling, I like to think.

Lately, studies have shown we’re not reading as much as we used to and that we’ve all turned into “writers” who no longer stress the importance of literary knowledge. Maybe we’re not letting ourselves be transported as often as we used to. Have we traded the idea of literary knowledge for as much of the “information age” as we can possibly get our hands on? Maybe.

When I take one of those books from school off the shelf and read a few pages, I remember why I love fiction and how much I enjoy the challenge of trying to make it work, trying to draw in the reader. Stories, after all, are our purest form of engagement.

While we can’t always refute what studies show us, we can still make efforts to share what reading did for us. Remember some of the ones you read? Remember why you liked or disliked them? If so, and you’re so inclined, post it in the comment section.

Thanks for reading.

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9 Responses to “Been taken away lately?”

  1. Hallie Says:

    William Golding got the idea for Lord of the Flies (supposed to be italicized) by reading to his children every night before they went to bed. He thought he could write a better book than those he was reading to his children, so he sat down and wrote it. That was about the time WWII had just ended and he had seen how conflicts can turn people into complete savages. You’re Welcome.

  2. Susan Says:

    I’m glad I’m not William Golding’s child.

  3. Ray Says:

    Nice, George! I remember those classic readings. I loved them and the learning that came with exploring good fiction. Thanks for your writings. You’re a pleasure to read.

    Remember “onomatopoeia” and learning the difference between “simile” and “metaphor?” Then there were the wonders of symbolism and allegory! I relished it all too.

    Sounds like Hallie is ready to ready to read Nine Stories (italicized) by J.D. Salinger! Especially “To Esme’, With Love and Squalor,” one of my personal favorites in the short story genre. I’d love to hear her impression of that.

    Thanks for sharing! Best of everything to you, Heatherly and all the girls.
    -Ray

    • 4george6 Says:

      Thanks, Ray – and thanks for reading. Yes, I remember all the simile and metaphor biz. The symbolism was always fun, too! “To Esme, With Love and Squalor” is one of my favorites. Did you remember that’s Hallie’s middle name is Esme (taken from that story)? I’m going to get Liza and Hallie on Nine Stories soon. Give my best to Gail!

  4. juliana Says:

    I couldn’t put down Wuthering Heights in 9th grade. Heathcliff was so diabolical! And kinda hot…

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