What We’re Reading: For the Over-Scheduled Reader
This week has been a flurry of emails, google calendar alerts, and late nights. Needless to say, my reading has been a little sparse, too. Nonetheless, I snuck in a few quickies after digging through my bookshelves for some much needed, albeit a bit older, literary lovin’.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I read this classic story in high school, and it’s still the creepiest short story I’ve ever read. My personal volume has an insightful afterword by Elaine R. Hedges, and an awful cover depicting the wallpaper that drives the main character mad. Told from the first person, the main character is a woman who’s husband brought her to a vacation house for three months to calm her nerves after giving birth. He insists that she not leave the room until she can conquer her nerves, so there she sits, writing all her thoughts. The room she spends her days in is awful – the floor is “scratched and gouged,” the bed is nailed down, and there are bars on the windows. Yet none of this seems to bother her – just the horrid yellow wallpaper, which is torn in ways that suggests shapes. Rapidly, we follow her trajectory into madness – but I’ll let you read it, if you haven’t already, and be thoroughly disturbed on your own. Let it be a cautionary tale for those of us prone to let our imaginations take over. . . Interestingly enough, however, in the afterword, Hedges talks about how Gilman put some biographical experiences in the story. After marrying and giving birth, Gilman became incredibly depressed, and “felt trapped by the role assigned the wife within the conventional nineteenth century marriage.” Go back and read the story through this feminist lens if you’ve already read it.
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman. This collection of essays is based off of an NPR series, also called “This I Believe.” Chock-full of personal belief systems, this makes for a surprisingly light read. It includes essays from big names like Bill Gates, Martha Graham, Newt Gingrich, Eleanor Roosevelt, and John Updike, along with many other everyday folk like you and I, all equally intriguing. There’s a lot of heavy talk on freedom, religion, truth, but there are also small, quieter moments like Rick Moody’s “The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading,” which every reader will appreciate. One of my favorites is Carl Sandburg’s essay “My Fellow Worms.” My favorite lines: “I believe in getting up in the morning with a serene mind and a heart holding many hopes. And so large a number of my fellow worms in the dust believe the same that there is no use putting stress on it.”
It’s also a great writing exercise – I was introduced to this book by a past TA of mine who had us write our own personal “This I Believe” essay. I won’t bore you with mine, but I’d love to see some of yours at our next Open Mic (May 11)!