Autodidacts unite!

Thank you for everyone’s kind thoughts on my last post. My work stress is diminishing (I had to give a few presentations to large groups of school children about the library’s summer reading program. I wore my crossword Converse (at left) to give myself a little boost! Needless to say, I’d rather be blogging for anyone to read than speaking in front of an audience! After all my fear and worry, it went alright — the kids would start to cheer whenever I’d show them any kind of movie tie-in book. On the one hand, we want them reading through any means, especially over the summer when if they don’t read, they lose some of what they’d learned, but… it makes me wonder if books are no longer seen as pleasurable for the sake of stories, imagination and language, but merely a means to continue to live in the fantasy world of the movie. Hopefully books like this will help kids eventually love reading or at least find it less of a struggle.)

That aside, I’ve been thinking of ways to make this blog more my own and move it away from trying to be just like everyone else’s book blog.

For starters, I’ve had an idea for a while to write posts about books that I’ve read in different genres. I like understanding the appeal behind these different types of stories and since my husband has a sci-fi bookshelf (with also graphic novels and comics), a horror bookshelf and we share a mystery bookshelf (all of them tall, black and skinny in the gothic corner where he keeps his Wonder Woman action figure and a bust of Frankenstein), we discuss them often!

I’m also thinking of writing shorter reviews sometimes at least. (I do worry that I’ll have my right to book blog called into question if I don’t post reviews some of the time!) I also thought of an unofficial way to join in on interesting challenges, by only reading one book on the topic instead of ten or even three. Nymeth’s 1930s Challenge was great this way because there was no signing up, just reading even one book. I ended up reading 3, simply because there was no pressure. Whereas all my other challenges started to weigh heavily with their longer lists of required reading.

This reminds me of a rare nonfiction book that I absolutely adore (I only have three books in this category): The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey. It’s probably not easy to find but read it, oh readdd it! I read it several times in university, the first time showed me there was something I could do besides getting a proper career, something like reading and writing my life out, and the second time through helped me see that it wasn’t impossible. She writes about getting yet another required reading list in high school and realizing that what she’d rather do, instead of going to college for more endless required reading, is to skip all that, stay at home and read the books of her choice. Crazy, but then she goes on to write about all the other famous people who’ve done it (Tolstoy, Milton), who have been autodidacts, that is, self taught. She also goes on to write about how she reads the Greeks and Romans and whatever else catches her fancy and starts to write a novel, a play.

This is part of what drives me to take my reading seriously, to push myself to read the difficult important books. I didn’t learn everything I wanted to in university and there’s still an endless amount more to know about people, life and stories within the pages of a good book. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (the second of my absolutely adored nonfiction books) is also indirectly about discovering the classics on your own, without a teacher or a class to guide you, and finding the ones that speak to you. Obviously I think these will vary from person to person. Helene Hanff loves John Donne. I like Marcel Proust and Jane Austen (and have never studied either in university although I often wish I could).

Anyway. Here’s something on ‘required reading’ from The Day I Became an Autodidact (quote taken from here since I unfortunately don’t have my own copy):

I read (rarely skimming) everything school tells me to from the middle of September to the middle of June, but the summer is mine. And being told what to read during summer suddenly made me realize that I don’t really like being told what to read during the fall, winter, and spring either.

I do want a little motivation to read some more George Eliot this year (but I’ve already read more Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen than I’ve read in years!), but apart from that, I’m looking forward to finding more books that are intelligent while also being enjoyable to read instead of stressing over all the classics I haven’t read yet.

11 thoughts on “Autodidacts unite!

  1. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    I love reading lists and the summer ones provided by my school were my favourite (though, at only four or five pages, too short for my liking). Like Austen’s Emma, I have been writing and rewriting and ordering and reordering lists of books I intend to read since I was quite young, though my follow-through is never 100%. But I get so much pleasure out of the lists!

    Lists aside, it’s always best to read what you’re interested in. Deciding on new reading material should be joyous, not stressful! Short posts, long posts, I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say as you strike out among the various genres!

    • Carolyn says:

      Oh yes, I like reading lists and was thinking of Emma a few days ago, as I contemplated more lists… I was looking at your library on LibraryThing the other day and contemplating the kind of reading list that comprised, one that showed you bought books you enjoyed and not just those you felt a duty to read, I felt. (I think I do that too often….) I was a bit jealous! 😉

  2. Nymeth says:

    I tried to make the challenge as informal as possible exactly because I know that feeling of pressure very well! I’m gladd it worked for you. Hanff is absolutely wonderful – I so loved her “hang on a second” moments where she’d go off to read another book so that book A would make more sense to her. I’m afraid I’m often more of a “oh well, I’m sure that reference will make sense someday” kind of reader. Not out of lack of curiosity, but out of sheer laziness.

    Good luck making your blog more like you want it to be – and know we’ll be right here no matter what you decide.

    • Carolyn says:

      Yes, I once tried to read Jane Eyre with a dictionary, looking up every word I didn’t know. It was slow going and I soon stopped, but at least now I know what lachrymose means (‘given to tears, tending to cause tears’)!

      And thanks for your support, it’s much appreciated. 🙂

  3. Bina says:

    It´s great that your presentations went well, speaking in front of audiences is not my kind of thing either, so I think you´re very brave!

    I´ll need to check the library for Hanff´s book, it sounds really great. Requeired reading never really works out for me, even if I´m the one that´s making it required. I´m easily distracted I guess 😉

    Oh, and I love your crosswords Chucks! 🙂

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks! I’ve learned how to do it if I have to (I was forced by my mom and guidance counselor to take acting in high school, I was so shy!) but it’s not something I enjoy much.

      even if I´m the one that´s making it required — exactly! I always want to read more classics every year and then have to stop and take breaks from my own expectations. 😉

  4. Penny says:

    Hi! I’ve just found your blog and am enjoying it a lot!

    I home-educated my children and searched everywhere for the Auto-didact book, but it’s out of print and I never did get hold of it. Anyway, we read LOTS of books together. Either I’d read them aloud (which they preferred) or we listened to talking books. We read Dickens, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot, Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse, Georgette Heyer… It was wonderful!

    I have an Elizabeth Bowen which I keep meaning to read: The Heat of the Day. It’s on my shelves of ‘to be read’ books. I must take it down!

    • Carolyn says:

      Hello Penny, thanks for saying hi. 🙂 That does sound wonderful, I wish I could share more books with my family.

      Elizabeth Bowen is a bit of a tricky author it seems to me, I read The Death of the Heart and loved it, but sometimes people find her a bit dry or too detailed or something. I hope you like it!

  5. Violet says:

    Glad your presentations went well. Personally, I can’t stand Dickens, but I think I “should” read him. Have tried, but my brain says zzzzzz. 🙂

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks Violet. I’m not a fan of Dickens either! I managed to pull through all of Bleak House, but that was mostly due to the great BBC miniseries inspiring me… I’ve tried and failed to get through Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, his writing just seems a bit too wooden. Enough with the ‘shoulds’!

  6. Josh's mom says:

    Have you seen the movie version of HH’s book? It is really well done – with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. If not, you should – really good. And sticks to the book – almost verbatim.

    In her book, “Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading”, Maureen Corrigan talked about her time getting a PhD in literature at an Ivy league school. OMGosh – it sounded absolutely horrible and not at all what she expected it to be (she envisioned interesting and enlightening discussions with fellow students about all kinds of books). Far from it -very competitive and isolating. I was very surprised.

    So I will do what you say in the post – and what HH did – learn on my own, from others in the blogging world, from books on literature and of course, from reading the books myself – whenever I want and in what order I want. This is what freedom is all about!

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