There was a point, in college, when I thought about studying literature in earnest, with an eye toward teaching--or writing--literary criticism. I can't use any stronger terms than 'thought,' because it was never more than that. It wasn't a real consideration, because it wasn't something I could logically and realistically see for myself. Literature isn't a career goal, I thought; it's a noun. How can you do something for a living that isn't even a verb?
But, oh, did I love my lit courses. They weren't just about books--they were about reading books carefully, taking books seriously. And I've always been all about that.
There was a problem, however. I was great at taking books seriously, and at reading them carefully. I was even great about taking the threads of various discussions begun in class, or in the pages of a journal of literary criticism, and weaving them into an argument that was a little tighter, a little more interesting.
What I couldn't do, however--not for the life of me--was to start a discussion, to take raw text and breathe insight into it. (Nor, apparently, am I especially good at drawing analogies, because...breathing insight into it? WTF?) Critically, I cannot start from scratch. And if you're going to be good at the whole lit crit thing, that's kind of an important skill to have.
All of this--this desire, but more relevantly, this knowledge that I'm woefully inadequate for the job--came rushing back to me as I recently (finally) read Yann Martel's Life of Pi. It was a great read (though I can't iMAGine how they're translating it to film...or maybe they're not), and I loved every second of it. But that's not the point. The point is that I first put the book on my bedside table after two of my university coworkers not only raved about the book, but began a discussion--in the middle of a meeting, no less--about its allegorical aspects and its larger and weightier take-home messages. (Yes, I left that university job more than 18 months ago, and yes, this meeting happened way before that, even. You have no IDEA how high my bedside-table book stack is. There are so many more books than there is time.) It sounded so impressive, so important. I just had to check it out for myself.
So, when I finally read it, I had that in the back of my head: Allegory. Larger, weightier message. And I could SEE it. I mean, it was obvious. But what was 'it'? I haven't the faintest idea. Was it a Christ allegory? Buddha? Dr. Doolittle? And also, how exactly was that story supposed to convince me that God indeed exists? What did I miss? Without some clues, without someone to lead me step by step through the discussion, I'm lost. Here I am, a supposedly bright, literate woman, someone who actually thought of pursuing a career in the deconstruction of great literature...and all I can do with a book on the level of Life of Pi is say, "Wow. That was intense. How 'bout that tiger, eh?"
I definitely should not quit that day job. (Anyone read it, by the way? Wanna help me out here?)