The Literary Depression

What I have to say today is not about reviewing books or movies. It is not funny. It is not inspiring. It is not sarcastic. I cannot promise you’ll like it. I can only promise veracity.

What I’m writing today comes from a place of compartmentalized depression that has recently grown inside of me.

Six-ish months ago, I set a goal for myself to read twelve classics in twelve months’ time. I was excited about it. At the time, I was reading approximately a book every couple of weeks and couldn’t get them from the library fast enough. I was devouring books left and right, wherever and whenever I could. I read at lunch, during dinner, on break at work, before bed, and any time I had a five-minute wait. I was even reading at stoplights.

At one point, however, I identified a gaping inconsistency in my literary appetite. I wasn’t really reading anything substantial. No classics. No pieces of great and enduring literature. Nothing from the old world.

Historically, I have stayed away from the classics because my memories of trying to wade through them in high school and in college are mainly memories of being made to feel stupid because I couldn’t follow the plot or I just found myself getting bored, and I knew that wasn’t an appropriate reaction to highbrow literature, especially from someone who holds a bachelor’s degree in its twin sister of a subject (English education).

But at the beginning of 2011, I got a wave of ambition. I’m twenty-six now, I thought. I’m old enough to understand some of that stuff a little better. I couldn’t have been expected to get it back then, but surely I can understand it now. I’m an adult.

I thought the best way to motivate myself to read twelve classics in the span of one year’s time would be to blog about my goal. As it turned out, that was actually the fastest way to de-motivate myself.

Here’s the embarrassing part; the part where I admit just how badly I’ve failed. Perhaps you readers have been giving me the benefit of the doubt, thinking that maybe I’ve been reading the books and just been lazy about posting my reviews. Let me clear up that confusion for you: Nope. I’ve read one book. I’ve reviewed one book. I’ve started two others and haven’t finished them. I haven’t started any more.

I have no explanation for this except that I have not felt any desire to read these classics. I haven’t even been able to read the last ten pages of A Christmas Carol, for crying out loud. How pathetic. Especially since that was the one I picked up in order to give myself a bit of a head start, since it’s so short!

But here it is, July, and I’ve read one measly classic. Oh, I’ve read other books in the space between then and now. I read through the entire Harry Potter series for the third time. I read (and reviewed) Unbroken, which should be an instant classic. I read The Namesake, which I should have reviewed on the blog but didn’t. I read The Art of Racing in the Rain. I read my first Jodi Picoult book. But I haven’t been reading classics. I haven’t given up on my goal, but I’ve been ignoring it.

I have had plenty of excuses. Want to hear them?
-Training for my third half marathon
-Two-week vacation with my grandpa
-Weekend trip to Oklahoma City
-Weekend trip to Austin
-More involved at church
-Spending time with new friends
-Repairing damaged friendships
-Figuring out what to do for my upcoming birthday (okay, this one is only half true; these thoughts only occupy about 50% of my time)

See? I have lots of excuses. But the truth is, I just haven’t felt like reading, and for a solid two months now, I’ve chosen to do any activity I can think of that will keep me from reading. Running, That ’70s Show marathons, Twilight Zone marathons, Freaks and Geeks marathons, social commitments I wouldn’t normally agree to, becoming an expert on the life and habits of James Franco, giving my dog a bath, and pretty much anything else that keeps me from creasing any spines.

This weird phenomenon has left me feeling a little bit depressed and experiencing the teensiest of existential identity crises. No desire to read? I can hardly comprehend that statement. My housemate has been leading a summer book club that I’ve been avoiding like the plague, even though I’m technically part of it. I’ve been averting my eyes at work from anyone who belongs to the book club I’m supposed to be in there. I’ve been pretending like the books in my house don’t exist, and in the last month, I’ve ignored all but one library pickup notice for books I’ve put on hold there.

And here’s the worst part. For me, reading and writing tend to go hand in hand, so the absence of reading in my life has also created a writing void I haven’t been able to fill. I have a writing partner. We’ve had three writing sessions together since the beginning of the year, and we started off on a great schedule: every three weeks we met for two to three hours and read each other’s writing and critiqued it. We did that three times, and then May was a little busy, and then I eased into this depression and now I’ve been basically avoiding it since then (sorry, LF).

I call this a compartmentalized depression because overall I would not say I’m unhappy. I’ve traveled recently. I have a decent social circle at the moment. Work is manageable. Run training has begun again. Somewhere along the way my broken heart finally began to mend. I enjoy my living situation (mainly just having a housemate). My skin is getting tanner. I recently saw my best friend. I’m getting a new tattoo within the week (knock on wood). I like my neighborhood, I like my house, I like my job, I like my church, I like my dog.

It would be a vast understatement to say that life is good and that I’m happy.

Except for this one tiny thing. This one thing that, though small, cannot be called insignificant because it makes me unrecognizable to myself. This one thing that nags at me day after day after day. Why aren’t you reading? You don’t “feel” like reading? Who ARE you?!

I don’t have a neat conclusion. I don’t have a solution. I’m nowhere nearer picking up a book now than I was when I began this post. In fact, the only thing I’m close to now is tears. So I suppose I’ll go have a good cry and hope that this unwelcome and unfriendly literary apathy does not last much longer. All I ask of you is that you wish me luck.

To abandon books would be to abandon myself entirely. And then where would I be?

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10 Comments

Filed under bloggy, goals, sentimental

10 responses to “The Literary Depression

  1. I had this expnasive comment last night and then I couldn’t get it to load. But basically, it said that books are for educational purposes and instructional purposes, but they are for fun too.

    I’ve read a couple classics (mostly in school as a requirement) and I did ‘get’ them and learn something from them and appreciate them. Though, bottom line is that they just aren’t for me. I like reading tom flow so well that it takes me to that place and time.

    You have a nice goal in the fact that you want to get back to them. But, I think your goal, or challenge, is a bit steep. And thus, you have totally made a chore out of something you enjoy. Maybe work through one classic while reading one or two fun books. Think of it as exercise and then rewarding yourself with ice cream. Make sense?

    ;-) I love your blog posts like this, all you.

    • The problem I have with implementing a reward system is that it makes reading the classics feel even MORE like a chore, and it’s definitely just supposed to be fun. Sometimes I just get frustrated with myself that I don’t think very many of the classics are fun. It makes me feel dumb. :(

  2. (geeze, I really need to proof better when I’m on the iPad)

  3. Chin up, kiddo! These things ebb and flow. It’s like your appetite for food. You’re going along with your normal appetite, and then bam! for four days you eat everything in sight. It gets back to normal, and then maybe you have a period where you’re not hungry at all.

    You’re just not hungry right now. It’ll come back. Don’t judge it. Experience other things that can inspire your writing later… you’ll probably be better off for it.

    • Thanks, Bronwen. Your comment is exactly what I needed to hear. You’re right. I probably will be better off for it, and if I allow myself to have other experiences in the space created by my non-reading, then I probably WILL get more inspiration/material for writing. Thanks a lot. That really is exactly what I needed.

  4. b longfellow

    wise advice, Bronwen. a year or so ago, i went months without so much as opening my journal, which i’d been consistent with for over 10 yrs. it didn’t feel necessary nor was i compelled to write in it; i figured i’d get back to it eventually, and i have.

  5. I have one thing to say: “becoming an expert on the life and habits of James Franco.” HA. cracked me up.

    Also, I personally thought 12 classics in a year was an ambitious goal when you first presented it. Not that that’s an excuse to fail, but if it makes you feel better, I don’t think NOT doing it is something to feel horrible about. Truth is, classics are hard, often long, boring, and mostly stupid.

    AND, if you had been too busy reading classics to post a review of Unbroken, then I never would have read it and gotten on my WWII nonfiction kick. So see? Your slacking has been of benefit to me.

    So maybe I had three things to say.

    • Thanks for laughing about the James Franco thing. :) And thanks for your consolation about the classics. And that’s true about Unbroken, and I’m certainly happy to have discovered that book and shared it with others, especially if it sparked a desire in you to read more WWII books! They are fantastic, and I hope you love them all.

  6. JJC

    so where you at now?

    • Finished two more since this post and am part way through another. So that will be four. Still eight to go, which seems insane and unreachable, but I guess we’ll see…

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