Crack Open Those Books!

So it’s back to school season in my neck of the woods. Those big yellow beasts are rounding up kids and professors are abusing copier privileges before all the paper runs out for the term. I graduated from Slippery Rock University with a B.A. in Literature three years ago. I’ll be auditing a class at a different college starting Monday, and I’m actually quite excited. In the spirit of getting back into an academic mindset, I’m reading some classics from the middle and high school literary canon that I somehow missed the first time around. Here are my thoughts, Part 1.

My reading through pre-college schooling was voracious and varied, but not deep. I consumed books like a wolf consumes meat, quickly and without relish. It’s a shame really, and I can only remember some of the things I’ve read, and I’ve forgotten an awful lot of the good literature I came into contact with through chance. There are some staid classics of my childhood I still return to, but mostly I read just to read. Lately, as I’ve honed my close reading skills, through practice, my chosen major, and a general desire to [hash tag] read harder (thanks Book Riot), I realized I missed a few important ones that everyone else seems to have read. For example, I read Shakespeare and Melville while classmates were struggling with Golding and Lowry. I’m not sure how this happened, but it did. I never read The Giver, but I did read The Tempest. I never read Lord of the Flies, but I did read Moby Dick (which, as a result of wolfing down content at the expense of understanding, I don’t recall well. I’m rereading it now, and find it hilarious.) What madness is this?
In an effort to understand what the heck I may have missed, I’m visiting some of these missed books for the first time. My first read was the aforementioned book by Lois Lowry, The Giver, winner of a Newbery Medal. This classic flew through my radar, but I dismissed it as too easy and never bothered with it. I think it was read in some middle school classes, but I was tortured with Johnny Tremain instead. In my free time I consumed multiple volumes of the excellent Redwall series, by Brian Jacques. (Eulalia, dontcha know?) And by free time, I mean instead of paying attention in class, most days. I was sent off to the SpEd-Gifted program, and there I found Shakespeare.

So, did my effort to catch up pay off? Yes, and no. For one, I think my suspension of disbelief would have been much more effective if I read this at a younger age. I still appreciate the creativity and thoughtfulness the author put into this book, but it is on the simpler side to make it accessible to younger minds. The second issue is my lack of a peer group led by a teacher to foster interesting discussion about the book’s subject matter. Not that middle school was ever a hotbed of intellectual discussion, but I’m lacking the essential idea exchange that a book of this sort is aiming to promote simply by the nature of its ideas.

While I am certainly glad I read this book, and it opened me up to thoughtful reflection on the nature of safety/fairness versus freedom, I have a bone to pick with two things: the nature of the Receiver of Memories, and the ending of the whole thing. Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! This world that Lowry has conjured up is a sober world governed by rules and logic. Yet, when we first meet the Receiver of Memories a.k.a. The Giver, a lot of hocus pocus suddenly erupts from the page. At least, it seemed that way to me. People as memory receptacles does not seem bizarre to me, as an idea, but it does not fit the world. The ending however, was the worst transgression on the precarious belief I had developed in this world while reading. It seemed thrown together from vague ideas that evoked, in my mind, the endings of both The Little Matchstick Girl and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Alright, I’m done hating. There are three more books in the series, and I have yet to read them. Maybe they’ll tie up the loose ends hanging at the end of this story. I can only hope. By-the-by, did anyone see the movie? It has Jeff Bridges in it, but it looks so unpromising on IMDb that I never bothered with it, and I do not plan to.

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