The Bell Jar & Other Books of Angst

I was too old when I read Catcher in the Rye.
At 21, I no longer had any sense of the alienation and ennui so central to the narrative and instead I was left annoyed with the tone and mystified by the popularity of the novel. With a little more time to reflect on the experience I can imagine I might have liked it at 9 or 10 before fantasy novels really took over my reading patterns but at 13 or 14 I would have been exasperated by the pretentious whining of the protagonist without having any ability to see the redeeming skill of the author’s stylistic skill.

Similarly I was older when I decided to read The Bell Jar and I chose to read it because I thought I ought to. I was, at 16, the stereotypically perfect audience for the book -young, female, well-educated, proto-feminist and depressed; I, like Esther, wanted the experiences & privileges available in the world but knew I was unlikely to get them – but even having read Plath’s poetry I was not moved to consider reading this classic work because other peoples’ suffering did not appeal. When I eventually settled down with it my focus was on the tone and poetry of the text not the insight to the author’s mind or the sense of connection to the protagonist.
The tale is the same with some other classic ‘formative’ books – I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit  when I was well into my 20s (although I did manage The Liar whilst still in my teens..just) and it was too late to recapture that sense of isolation in growing up gay. Similarly Girl, Interrupted might have been an influential film for my teen years (Winona & Angelina certainly made it clear to me straight was not going to be an option) but the book when I read it, again in my early twenties, was no more than brief nostalgia for that sense of lack of direction and connection.

I wonder not so much why classic books of angst, fear & disillusionment didn’t connect with me in the more recent stages of my life but why I didn’t reach for them during my more impassionedly gothic and misunderstood phases.
Was it because doing my A-levels, having a social life & being depressed took up too much time for reading?
Was it that I avoided classic lit. for fear of cliche?
Did I subconsciously expect to move on, knowing that teens are supposed to be angsty I was keen to move past that, so did the texts seem too self-consciously coming-of-age for my already ‘irked with self’ psyche?
Was I too wrapped up in my personal tragedy to care to read others – was solace in company anathema to my idea of tortured soul?
Did I just not see them on the shelves of my library or in my friends’ hands?
Was I too engrossed in Pratchett?

I suspect that all of these things played their part.

Its hard to go back, to recognise the selfish and the naive and the childish in oneself, even through fiction but its worth spotting those things even if only to prepare for the next stages…
Maybe you can’t read some books too late.


To Read

In an effort to stave off the real world and its terrors (e.g. research, jobs, emotions that kind of thing) and in between my refound joy in fiction I’ve been reading book reviews again.
So I thought  I’d make a bit of a record of some of the books I want to make an effort to read. This is extremely dull for non-classicists so is under the cut.. Continue reading


So to update from last time I commented on books I am reading.

Snuff has arrived – it is sitting looking tempting at me on the arm of the sofa but I am busy trying to keep my mind on The Thesis!

So at the moment – still reading The Making of Modern Cornwall (actually in hard copy rather than off the Virtual Learning Environment)
Also got Barbarians of Ancient Europe, Bardic Nationalism & West Britons from the Uni library which should keep me busy.

Also really want to go and buy some music though realistically I know I work better with music that I already know quite well, also they kind of prefer you to spend money on these things and I am not prepared to wade into the copyright debate at the moment.

Books to be Read

Have decided to try and push myself to note down things I want to read as an incentive to keep reading. The ability to read for pleasure or interest is the key thing that I lost as my depression deepened and I combined it with doing a PhD,  although as previously commented I flit from text to text as I research and reference fiction and interest often elude me, but its something I want to find again for everyday not just for hiding from my parents…
So Currently on the planned list:

Achilles in Vietnam – J. Shay (looking at how Homer’s text pre-figures ‘Nam PTSD)
Lost books of the Odyssey – Z. Mason (Vignettes on lesser characters & alternative stories)
Snuff – T. Pratchett (New!!!)
Making of Modern Cornwall – P.Payton (Thesis stuff)

Is not the most lightweight list going and none of it on my kindle- but its a start.

Peripheral Reading

When you are writing a humanities thesis you are consumed with reading; wrapped in it and floating across it.
Every new idea throws you off in a thousand directions and every key point must be backed with scholarship, proven or argued. My thesis has a literature review within a review of literature about other literature – the layers of texts about texts boggle my mind and clutter up my bibliography. I know I am not alone in finding it throws reading for pleasure off kilter but what about other academic reading.

How do you keep up with ideas in your field not specifically connected to your research without wasting time you should be writing? How do you get over the itch to try and find a way of connecting an interesting article to your thesis or the guilt of reading something just because the idea fascinates you?
Am I the only person who has this problem?

What I’m reading now: Continue reading