Art as the In Between

I am an English major who loathes reading. There, I said it. I’m wired in some odd way. The whole experience to me is like pulling teeth, plodding through words, pages, chapters, etc. Themes, symbols, tone, syntax, metaphor… and all of this in an effort to reach an end that ultimately, probably, and unfortunately, will leave me exasperated and unsatisfied. It’s a medium, for the most part, that just doesn’t appeal to me.

I can remember only two books that truly, and wholly, evoked in me an intensity of feeling and emotion worth remembering—or better said, that I can’t forget: Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. I read Lowry for my fifth grade summer reading project—selecting it off a list of many potential reads. Gatsby was taught in my high school honors class junior year. I haven’t picked up either book since.  I don’t want to.

If you were to ask me to describe the basic plot of Lowry’s Giver, I can vaguely recall a few important details about the book—not much else. It’s been about eleven years, after all, since I’ve last opened it. Gatsby’s a little more fresh. That’s not to say, though, that I can give the plot an accurate play by play. Alas, this novel too is well on its way out of the memory banks.

However, I can still recall the feeling I took away from each work. The experience of each read was so powerful, so poignant, that I can’t shake the effects of their words. It’s the emotion that’s left behind for me when all else is forgotten. And that is what is so important and perfect about these novels.  I was eleven when I read The Giver, with no notion at all as to what underlying symbols or messages were present in the book. I was purely an uninformed reader, you could say, captivated by the story. I responded to The Great Gatsby in the same manner, although I was required to delve a bit deeper (since it was for class).

I’ve since been searching for a third book. I’d really like to make this duo a trio. But after having been bombarded by the “classics” for the past four years, I’ve decided that I must be ignorant, inattentive, and a bit slow. These are the greatest works in the literary canon: Beloved, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Robinson Crusoe…and the list goes on. It’s a mixed bag, the literary greats I’ve read, and not one of them can impress upon me the same emotions as my hallowed two.

This is not to say I’m a philistine by any means. I do appreciate art. Good art. But in this era of fast paced living, who has time to sit and read a book? Especially, in my experience, when it probably has little to yield. That being said, the evolution of technology has rendered us less inclined to sit and read, as if I needed more of a reason not to. It’s becoming harder and harder for me to find a third book.

The art that I take to most is music, for the same reason I took to Lowry and Fitzgerald’s novels: its ability to provoke intense reactions almost immediately upon experience. I’d have to say I’m not in the minority here. With more than 100 million iPods sold worldwide since their inception in November, 2001, they are well in demand, and people have been listening. The potential to have  a 1,000+ song library is enticing. Carrying this library around in your pocket is amazing. Having it there is convenient. iPods allow us to access our favorite songs on demand, while on the go. It doesn’t slow us down, and we can still take the time to appreciate the art in walks to class, in our cars, or even while reading!

So where does this leave the book? Outdated and on its way to extinction? For so many, surely the answer is no. Unlike our music, though, we can’t read while driving, or dancing, or talking, or showering, and it’s hard to get engaged with a read walking to class. Books simply require the sort of time and interest that people have less and less of. I think art, unfortunately, is beginning to maneuver its way into the “in-between” times of our lives—when were not busy doing something else, which we often are nowadays.

Yeah, the new Kindle is great—literature’s iPod. We still have to sit down to read it though. And with so many people on the go these days, immediate experience of emotion is what they’re looking for. It’s the nature of our society and culture: fast-paced, demanding, and an incessant desire for immediate gratification. Music can offer this, a book—not so much.

Even as an apathetic reader, I’m always curious whether I’ll ever stumble upon that third book. That’s what keeps me reading. Surely there must be something out there, amongst the shelves and shelves of old and new fiction. Though with my impending graduation, and my time growing scarcer by the year, I’m nervous that this desire will never be fulfilled. Lowry and Fitzgerald will just have to get comfortable with each other. Until then, I’ll be listening.

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