Thursday, November 20, 2014

Worst English Major Ever

Worst English Major Ever -- when word gets out that you studied English literature in college, people start expecting you to know stuff... but what if you're still an uncultured slob?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

In college, I majored in English literature.

This is information I don't usually volunteer when I'm getting to know someone. Because when I mention I was an English major, they inevitably say something like "Oh really? So what do you think about the dichotomy between egalitarianism and racism in Moby Dick?"

An even more embarrassing question (and let's be honest, I don't get a lot of off-the-cuff inquiries about Moby Dick) is: "So what's the best book you've read lately?"

At which point I have to confess that I haven't read anything besides picture books since March.

In my defense, it isn't as easy as it once was to get into a book, especially high literature. Part of that may be age, part of it may be having a house full of young children. I know part of it is definitely exhaustion.

I usually don't realize how tired I am until I pick up a book, especially a wordy 19th century classic. I react to A Tale of Two Cities like it's a rag soaked in chloroform over my face.

Also, I found that years of having toddlers and babies at home has really impaired my ability to focus on just one thing for long periods of time.

Those Russian novelists with their 1,500 page tomes just kill me, but I feel like I have no credibility as a graduate in English lit unless I've read Anna Karenina (I have, yay!) and War and Peace (I haven't got the strength.)

Worst English Major Ever -- when word gets out that you studied English literature in college, people start expecting you to know stuff... but what if you're still an uncultured slob?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
A shot from my extensive home library.
Honestly, I haven't read half of these.

That brings me to the problem of my long-term memory. I'm constantly surprised by the important events in my own life history that I've completely forgotten about, letalone fictitious events in novels about other people.

When I first learned about Goodreads I was thrilled, because I now have a place to remind me of all the books I've read and forgotten about, and even a review of the book written by yours truly so I can remember (1) what it was about and (2) whether I liked it or not!

My literary retention problem was brought to my attention again last night when I went to a friend's house for our bi-monthly eat-pizza-and-watch-a-period-drama-on-Netflix evening. We chose the 2012 remake of Great Expectations.

Before I went to my friend's house, I knew that Great Expectations was written in the 1800s by Charles Dickens. I knew I read it in high school. I knew the story involved a boy named Pip and a lady in a wedding dress.

And... that's it.

Entire plotlines, entire characters (important ones!) had been completely erased from my memory. I don't know quite how that happened.

Sometimes I wonder how I'll know if I start to develop dementia.

Years ago, I was feeling invigorated and all English major-ey and decided to start plowing my way through classic works of literature that I'd never read before. I started with Gulliver's Travels.

I don't remember why I chose that one. Maybe I empathized with the main character when he was hog-tied by all the little Lilliputians (I could see myself waking up to find that my children had done something similar), or maybe it was around the time when Jack Black was starring in a movie based on that title and it made me feel that the world was getting too stupid.

In any case, I was 90 pages into Gulliver's Travels when I slowly put the book down and said to no one in particular, "I've read this before." Not just after a few pages, mind you. I didn't realize this until I was nearly a hundred pages in.

I share this publicly to let other English lit grads know that they're not alone if they don't have an opinion on the communist allegory in Animal Farm. They're not the only ones who haven't memorized soliloquies from each of Shakespeare's major works.

There's a time and a season for all things. The amount I read ebbs and flows at different seasons in my life. But right now, I'm finding that it's just not the season to divulge that I'm an English major. Then people expect me to know stuff.

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14 comments:

  1. I am like this too! Nothing I learnt at uni is still in my mind. My shortcomings are most exposed when we have a round on lit in a quiz, and people look at me, as if to say, this is your round. With young children, let alone five, there isn't going to be much time or energy for reading!

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    1. Or when someone names a ridiculously long word that NO ONE knows, and looks at you like, "You majored in English. Please define."

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  2. How funny that this post touches on remarkably similar things to mine fir #thetruthabout this week! And I'm an American Lit grad but I've never read Moby Dick (I don't think ;-) ) (for shame!). I know what you mean though - I gave up on weighty tomes years ago - now I'm addicted to psychological thrillers that are so easy to read I can do it whilst cooking the kids' tea! Thanks so much for linking up to #thetruthabout again Jenny X

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    1. I was thinking about the similarities as I read yours! Really enjoyed it.

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  3. Oh my gosh, how did you go in my mind and steal my thoughts? My husband is finally reading some of my favorite novels. Works I read during the first few years of our marriage (before we had kids), and he excitedly comes home to tell me about the pinnacle moment of the Good Earth and I just stare at him, blankly. Like, that happened?

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    1. Someone recently told me that this condition is called "Mom-zheimer's" and that it applies to all facets of a mom's life equally. It makes so much more sense now...

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  4. I'm the same way! I've been lamenting the loss of my ability to remember plot lines and characters as easily as I once did. And I've had the same experience of being a good way through a book before realizing I had read it before. I was overjoyed to discover Goodreads, it's now my favorite app on my phone and I introduced mom to it when she got her smart phone.

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  5. Now I need to start utilizing it! In Jenny's defense she has introduced me to a number of good books. Even if they weren't Moby Dick or written by a Russian! Whenever I come to visit there is always something interesting around the house.Gotta get into Good Reads since Mom-zheimers is getting worse all the time! Mamasan

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    1. You'd love Good Reads. You can follow people who have the same taste in books as you, read reviews of a book you're thinking about reading, and see "bookshelves" of high-rated books in all kinds of different categories. I don't use any of those features, I literally use it just to keep track of the books I've read and what I thought about them to remind myself in the future!

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  6. I needed to know about Goodreads- thanks!!
    Mom- heimers never gets better either! My girls are 26 & 28, and I still haven't recovered all my mind. It's probably lost forever, sigh
    Now I'm entering the age of real Alzheimer's, 54. So what else is new?? I've given up. That's why I write down everything I do in a little diary. So tomorrow I'll remember I did
    Do the dishes!

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  7. Or expect you to multiply large numbers in your head because you went to MIT 20 years ago....

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  8. It's fine to "know stuff" and not tell people. You can hold onto your secret until your babies have grow out of picture books.

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  9. I was a history major and was a government teacher. I am leaking information out as I have each kid. I haven't taught for three years and I have forgotten so much stuff. You have made me feel better that I just don't remember much of my schooling right now. I hope it kicks in when my kids finally get into school. On a positive note, I had to take a history course and I felt so good because as the teacher was lecturing, I was actually remembering things. One day I will remember my history and will read an adult book. For now, I have my blogs that I read.

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    1. It comes back to you sometimes. Sort of.

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