I was at a coffee shop waiting for Benjie the other day when I started reading Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. After a few pages I found myself digging through my bag and looking for a pencil because a line struck me: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
I often annotate when I read and it takes immense discipline on my part to not decorate borrowed books with three-word summaries, crooked lines, and oblate circles around unfamiliar words. I never thought it was weird until Nina called me out: “Don’t you feel like you’re reading a textbook?”
For Nina, reading is an immersive process that welcomes no interruptions. You soak in the narrative and you don’t disturb the experience by stopping every now and then to scribble comments.
But those frequent pauses have never bothered me. Every day in high school we had to discuss poems, short stories, and even newspaper articles. If I didn’t annotate my readings, I wouldn’t have anything to say during discussions.
And to this day I still read with a pencil in hand (or in bag, apparently). I often go back to my annotations when I want to further analyze a text. When I recommend a book to a friend, I want to be able to give an explanation that goes beyond initial impressions. These annotations are like notes that I could hopefully mold into a more sophisticated critique.
My renewed interest in literary learning has also triggered a newfound pet peeve: it gets annoying when I read a review and the analysis only revolves around the book’s relatability. While there is value in seeing your own experiences reflected in a literary piece, I think readers should also strive to roam outside their bubbles and go beyond, “these poems are so relatable.”
It’s even worse when people shun other pieces of literature because they’re supposedly “not relatable.” I think limiting ourselves to easily accessible stories is detrimental to our intellectual growth. A personal opinion that could be up for debate: people who never read outside their favorite genre are not as prolific as they claim.
The academe could sometimes be intimidatingly elitist but I also see merit in trying to read literary works that are staples in English curriculum. You don’t have to like e.e. cummings but there’s nothing to lose if you try to understand why his poems are critically-acclaimed yet Lang Leav’s are not.
I may be aiming a little too high in attempting to make sense of formalism and of Derrida’s deconstruction but I guess I just want to raise the bar. Literature, after all, is way too rich and too broad to limit oneself to what’s familiar.
The featured image shows Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter, a book that I mistakenly bought because I thought Anuradha was Arundhati. Oh well papel.