I know lots of people discuss reading broader globally, moving about of Western Lit if they have thoroughly read Western Lit which doesn’t seem the case for most people, good and well. I however, don’t even read that broad. I’ve barely read my own nation’s literature, and what I’ve read . . . I . . . do not love.
I like some children’s/ya sort of literature (Alcott, To Kill a Mockingbird) and plenty of middle grade from the U.S. but most of my adult classic reading is British. I wouldn’t describe myself as an Anglophile in the way many people do, who seem to portray England exactly the same as during the heyday of the classics. I love the literature and the history, in part because well, like many Americans, it is my history and when it diverges, it is my cousin’s history so to speak. I’ve no desire to be British, nevertheless, I’m definitely rather an American’s American in many respects.
But I do not love our literature. Don’t misunderstand me, I do have some respect for it for some aspects of some of it (I think, perhaps the wordsmithery and that is it), but I don’t understand the tone of it at all. Its so incredibly depressing and fatalistic and that doesn’t seem to fit the overall tone of our nation throughout history. For example, I can understand that sort of tone in Russian Literature. I can’t find any bright spots or hopefulness ever in Russian history. But we at least have always acted like everything was hunky dory whether it was or not. And fatalism seems the opposite to our can do attitude for much of history. It is also, in my opinion extremely boring and depressing to read. And all the literature I’ve come across from America is fatalistic.
Tied to this fatalism and glumness is a total lack of humor/awareness/sense of the ludicrous. I think lots of people know that when you take everything as humor, nothing is serious, but I think that when everything is serious, nothing is. I don’t think that there needs to be objective humor per se, but there is a sort of connected attribute of self-awareness, a sense of the ludicrous, that without which, serious perspectives come across as bland and pompous and possibly ludicrous. Ethan Frome layers on so many tragedies of such a self-imposed type and in a way that by the end, I’m disgusted, not empathetic. And if that was all truly supposed to be serious, its absolutely a ludicrous story.
Earlier this year when I was bingeing the Speaking with Joy podcast, she had a quote by Chesterton. I believe it had to have been this one. I can’t verify that it was Chesterton, but all the same, whoever said it it sums this point up perfectly
“Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.”
American literature will never have my love, but I have felt that I needed to read more. You ought to read more than just what you love, and I am after all, American. So, I’ve put authors on my list. I’d read some short stories I found interesting by Faulkner and Hemingway. I picked up The Sound and The Fury. Yeah, that was a no. I did a bit of research on his other work and dropped Faulkner. Maybe the two short stories are enough. I then eventually picked up Hemingway, and slogged my way through two works and got mired in a third. I had thought that because they were so short, I would read all the fairly famous ones anyway. Mulling it over, I decided, that that was enough. I don’t enjoy his stories, nor do I think I need to dwell on them. All of his characters are sociopaths, anyone with feelings is portrayed as weak in addition to the fatalism. I don’t really think that that is a great thing to absorb in addition to my not enjoying them. I’ve had a taste. That is enough.
I then decided, that I’d try to try one of each fairly famous American author’s works. I don’t have to read all their works, I don’t even have to read the most famous of their works. Getting a taste of their work is good enough, perhaps in fact may be too much.
Recently my sister mentioned reading a Flannery O’Conner novel and feeling like she shouldn’t be reading it, it was something about a pastor who wasn’t a Christian but was still preaching. I feel like that is another aspect to Am Lit. That of focusing on really disturbing things and people. Or at least some of them like O’Conner (I’ve not read hers, that is the impression I’ve received from what little I’ve heard), Faulkner, and Hemingway. I remember in high school Am Lit that the focus was on short stories and they were all horrible, so I assumed all short stories were that way. Why is this such a focus?! And should I be reading this stuff? Maybe a short story is the only taste I should have, if any of such authors.
I guess, tread warily will be my goal.