The Great Awakening

“I trust the great novelists to teach me how to live, how to feel, how to love and hate.  I trust them to show me the dangers I will encounter on the road as I stagger on my own troubled passage through a complicated life of books that teach me how to die.” –Pat Conroy

I wanted to start with the quote from Pat Conroy’s memoir My Reading Life, because when I read it, it struck me as something so singularly true yet unrealized within me.  When I was younger, I didn’t like reading much.  I read Goosebumps and Animorphs and the usual canon of books that children of my generation read fervently.  This was, however, seemingly the only books that I read as a child and I started and stopped reading them in the 4th grade.  I always loved to write, but did not waste time in reading, something I regretted as I got older.

When I reached 7th grade I picked up White Oleander from my mother’s book shelf and began to read it.  I honestly read it because I was strictly forbidden to do so, the same I could say of many books I read in high-school.  After reading White Oleander I became obsessed with reading, either because I was entering my awkward angsty teenage years or because I finally found a book that didn’t sugar coat anything and finally presented a world that mirrored what I felt.

Having to read things like, The Chocolate Wars and The Outsiders in middle school didn’t provide for me what I yearned for in books, they seemed to gloss over serious subject matter and dumbed it down for my “reading level” I was envious of the kids in older grades, I saw them reading Ayn Rand and Faulkner and I, too, wanted to do the same.

Finally, in 9th Grade we were given The Scarlet Letter to read in our American Literature class.  It was, and is still, to this day, one of my absolute favorite books of all time.  Hester Prynne’s struggle was so real and intense to me and I was amazed that an author could create a character so completely they seemed completely real. In reading Hawthorne’s prose I was finally opened to the world of great literature and I hungrily read each page, savoring his words and wishing that I had found him sooner.  As I went to a very, very small private school in a very, very small southern town, the reception of Hawthorne was not reciprocated by my classmates, often hearing them begrudge the archaic writing.

In reading Hawthorne, and subsequently Fitzgerald and Miller’s “The Crucible” my passion for reading was awakened that year.  The truth and honesty with which those authors wrote inspired me and opened my mind to what great literature was.  It was a turning point for me as I strived to read more and more of the great authors and, in turn, struggle in my writing to accomplish the honesty and beauty that pervades the pages of the great literary works.

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