A familiar sight greets me of an evening when I return from the drudgery of the day – Stacks of (perpetually rotating) novels, novellas, short story anthologies and assorted other bodies of fictional work. Brand-new novels bristling with shining sales stickers are laden with dusty tomes mixed with fancy, expensive volumes I’ve bought impulsively.
These piles of books arranged haphazardly next to my bed, dominating much of my side of the room, never cease to bring me joy. I handle them with the reverence due, tenderly caressing their spines, planting my nose within and having myself a deep, appreciative whiff of the musky odour pervading each yellowing page.
Of late though, directly relating to undertaking my studies, some unwelcome strangers have embedded their selves within my harmonious flock of books. It’s happened much to my chagrin, novels that I’ve had to buy at my own expense with my own paltry income and bring home to introduce to the rest of the ‘family’. As if I’ve recklessly unleashed a rabid-maddened savage cat into a rabbit hutch, brimming with the most adorable, fluffy bunnies one’s brain could envision.
I can only lament at the disquiet reverberating through my beloved books with the addition of these new novels, Franz Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ and (shudders violently, glances furtively around) ‘As I lay dying’ by William Faulker. These are both (deemed by the powers-that-be) integral to my studies, to enhance and enlighten my amateur, unenlightened creative writing mind and disposition. They are both listed in the aptly-foreboding ‘Minimum Requirements (Required Texts)’ section of one of my subjects, impossible to ignore or rebel against, least of all by someone as meek and diffident as myself.
I brought the novels home garbed in the Co-Op bookshop’s provided bag, hoping this would prevent detection from members of the public, so immense was my shame. It’s not that I had any real hatred for the subject matter of each, at least not originally. Simply that I had conformed to what was required of me, yielding to the order to read material I otherwise would skim over when appraising the overburdened shelf of a 2nd hand bookshop.
How could I hold my head high among the ranks of the militant alternative types who manned the bastion of the Comms Degree?
Those brave folk who broke free of the shackles of recommended readings and alleged ‘classics’, liberated with their literary arrogance, proclaiming it to the world with strange shirts and their woollen caps and woolly beards (along with the female counterparts). Without ever truly meeting these types (perhaps they only dwelled within the recesses of my delusional imagination) I felt I had let them down, a Narc to their nobly resistant ways.
‘As I lay dying’ made its presence known quickly, as grating and unbearable as an adolescent relative liquored-up on sugar at a mandatory family event. I tried to be a good boy, tackling the drear (as I soon learnt) novel one night when spurred by a burst of bravado.
It did not make for good reading, an insurmountable struggle if ever there was one, I say that without exaggeration. I battled valiantly, though I found the feat even more daunting given I had all my other books peering at me incredulous, mutely fuming at my betrayal. I could not shake the belief I was the impressionable schoolboy, fraternising with a notorious bully, while my friends watched overhead in disgusted disbelief.
Guilt riddled my very core, though as I persevered with the contemptible ‘As I lay dying’ a profound realisation dawned on me – this degree was always going to challenge me, perhaps on occasion even confront my comfortable reading habits. If I were to benefit fully, I would need to take such times in my stride, pore over the pages of these novels/writing that melted my brain with unrelentingly bleak narratives. To muse over each text like ‘As I lay dying’s meanings, some subtle, others with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, with educational overtones bristling from the texts like a carelessly discarded syringe in a public park.
This new understanding mollified my troubled soul somewhat; I conceded that being exposed to such works would strengthen my resolve and nourish my ability to write, extracting lessons from each I could incorporate into my own work. Even mayhap, this piece of writing you are currently reading, my first foray into the UTS blog, will reflect knowledge imparted from the likes of ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘As I lay dying’.
A man anew, I devoured ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘As I lay dying’, ignoring the inherent bitter, ashy taste of both. I told myself they were tasty dishes of writing akin to ‘Lolita’, ‘Dubliners’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘For whom the Bell Tolls’, who are but a few of the other novels stacked high, blissfully dominating much of my bedroom.
I set ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘As I lay dying’ with their new siblings and turned my mind to other matters, ignoring the rustling of papers marking the violent melee that ensued from placing such clashing works in close proximity to one another. Lesson learnt, I vowed to accept each new text that was deemed crucial to my development, even if it triggered a riot among my ever-growing family of spectacular reads.
By Samuel Elliot