Monday, July 18, 2016
In search of lost reading: From grad school to re-reading great fiction
Friend BSB entered the SUNY Buffalo English Dept graduate program a year after I did; she'd graduated from a top university a few years before. In college, as she tells it, she was too intimidated by most of the giants in the English Dept., took only a few courses, majored in psychology, and worked in that field for a while after graduating. But she always had a love for literature, especially novels - and had heard that SUNY Buffalo had an intriguing program in literature and psychology, so applied and got in. Initially, she thought she write about Doris Lessing, but backed off because Lessing was extraordinarily popular at that time and it seemed that just about every other grad student was writing about The Golden Notebook, so she turned her focus onto Woolf and Forster, ultimately doing her dissertation on the latter. She seems to be one of the rarities whose focus didn't change all that much over the course of her graduate years (same holds true for me, to some extent): didn't write much about poetry at all (though she notes that she took great solace from reading Yeats in her college years when the world seemed to be falling apart) and really stayed focused on major modern British novelists. BSB, like all who entered SUNY English in those days, had hoped to get a teaching job in a college or u.; she did get a job in a small college in Puerto Rico, which she held for a few years, but life brought her back to NYC, where she enjoyed a long teaching career first in public high schools and later in an advanced public-private hybrid high school in nyc where students earned college credits in jr and sr years - no doubt she taught more college level courses than most of our peers who did manage to land college or univ tenure-track jobs. Today, she finds most of her reading isn't among the great modernists but is all about keeping up with world events - she's a devotee of the NYT. But her plan in retirement years is to re-read the great novels - something I heartily endorse! She had the experience once of re-reading Middlemarch and finding it to be a completely different novel (of course it was the same novel - it was she who had changed), and we agree that there are so many great novels we've read that we can barely recall or recount - they are part of who were are, just as all lived experiences are, but to return to great reading of the past is to experience that pleasure once again, and from a different and maybe even wiser standpoint.