On a recent exhilarating trip to the library*, I scooped a large pile of books, fully convinced that, yes indeed, I will change my lifestyle to make more time for reading, I will prioritize books over television and internet wanderings, and I will make my college self proud of how I engage with literature of my accord and not because it is assigned to me.
And yet, four weeks and one renewal later, I have only finished one book—Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon (which, in my defense, was quite a page-turner).
One of the other books I picked up was Samantha Ellis’s literary memoir, How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I Learned From Reading Too Much. Ellis, an Iraqi-Jewish playwright from London, promised to be different enough from me while still sharing one important common ground: like myself, she is clearly one of those reader types.
But when opened it up to the table of contents, I realized something.
I am NOT one of those reader types.
You totally thought I was, right? Just two seconds ago I explained to you how seriously I take libraries** and I talk about books a lot and somewhat consistently add books to my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads and also I have a Goodreads account.
So I had you fooled. I had myself fooled too.
I spend so much more time thinking about reading and planning what I will be reading and reading about why other people love reading and what they just finishing reading that I never get around to actually reading.
Taking a quick glance at the heroines covered in the book, while I was familiar with most of the names, the number of the books I’d actually read about these characters was positively paltry.
Anne of Green Gables: One time my friend and I were going to watch the DVD of the television mini-series, but five minutes in her older brother came home, unplugged the DVD player, and left with it, so we had to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on VHS instead. That is the extent of my encounters with Anne.
Lizzy Bennett: Didn’t read the book until it was assigned to me in college, but told people for approximately five years before that that, yes, of course I’d read it.
Scarlett O’Hara: Rhett said it best.
Esther Greenwood: I checked The Bell Jar out from the library once. It was magical***.
Cathy Earnshaw: Real talk, whenever someone brings up Wuthering Heights, I mutter something along the lines of “Oh, that Heathcliff!” and then run and hide in a corner until I can safely assume there’s been a subject change. I have no idea if that exclamation is even appropriate because I don’t stick around to see anyone’s reactions. (It’s a similar scene when Jane Eyre comes up, except I only know one character’s name from that book, and it’s Jane Eyre.) Also, Ellis’s book refers to the heroine exclusively as “Cathy” even though I’ve only ever heard people call her Catherine. What do they call her in the book? Can somebody clear this up before my next social encounter please?
Scheherazade: I just spent most of my brain power making sure I copied that name down from the book correctly.
And the list goes on. In a shocking turn of events, I didn’t read this book either, because clearly I have not read too much like the author has, and hello, spoiler alerts.
I realize it’s just one woman’s influential book experiences. I realize that while mine would look quite different, they wouldn’t be any less valid. And yet, I am slightly bewildered, both with my lack of familiarity with her chosen heroines and with my delusional belief that I would find this book worthwhile without a basic knowledge of the books being examined, as though I could trick myself into thinking I had read The Books, the same way I do with other people. The state of pretending-to-have-read comes alarmingly naturally to me.
So, in the immortal words of Usher and St. Augustine, these are my confessions. Fellow lit lovers, I have failed you. I have deceived you and on several occasions probably confused you with uninformed opinions on books you’ve actually read.
To make amends, I pledge to go to the library and scoop up a large pile of books, fully convinced that, yes indeed, I will change my lifestyle to make more time for reading, I will prioritize books over television and internet wanderings, and I will make my college self proud of how I engage with literature of my accord and not because it is assigned to me.
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably from a book you’ve read that I haven’t gotten to yet.
*I realize you might think I’m kidding about the library being exhilarating, but I can assure you I am not. I rarely joke about the library.
**Still not joking.
***No, not the book, I didn’t read that. But being at the library is always magical****.
****I’m being very serious.
Catherine Kramer (’14) has a degree in English and works in publishing. Her continued existence is made possible by grace, warm hugs, and iced chai lattes.