A Funny Thing Happened in the Church Parking Lot

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
At least they know YOU, dear sir! Image via Wikipedia

I went to church yesterday and had a conversation I’ve had countless times since I decided on a college major (over eight years ago–my how the time does fly!). I was standing outside of church talking to one of the college students who was home visiting. I asked her what her major was. Her eyes sparkled and she stood a little straighter. “Nursing,” she said with a smile.  “Too much math and science for me.” Her smile faltered a little. I felt like I’d pricked a child’s balloon. “Oh, what did you major in?” I smiled, stood a little taller. “English.” “Ugh, I don’t like English, it’s so boring. Too much history for me.” My face fell. We were two truly disappointed people, standing there in an awkward silence.

It never fails that when I say I was an English major that I get this response. In that same spot a few weeks ago, I got the same reaction from a high school junior. In the past, I’ve gotten it from nosy neighbors, drunk college guys, engineers, HTM majors, church folks, family members, and friends. I’ve gotten “so you want to be a teacher?” so many times I could scream, though that’s better than “what on Earth can you do with that?”, “why don’t you just major in (blahblahblah),” or “I thought you were going to do…?”

People hate literary theory more than anything else in the world. They hate essays and papers. They don’t understand what a semicolon is for. Spelling and grammar irk them. They don’t like “literary” books, and can only fall back on a few for reference to any literary pursuits: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Beloved, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, some Shakespeare play their high school made them read (usually Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, or Othello).

It saddens me to think that many people have not developed the deep abiding love for reading, writing, and grammar that I have. It disturbs me that people don’t care if they split infinitives, and many have no idea what that phrase means. It irks me that people think it’s trendy and cool to read Twilight and Harry Potter, but won’t read any book that requires any real thought. How do you expect to grow as a person? How do you engage your imagination? I’m sorry, but sparkly vampires are not symbols, allegories, motifs, or tropes. There aren’t many well executed similies and metaphors in Eclipse. I like “light reading” as much as the next person, but I demand that even my light reading be well written and adds some dimension to my experience of life.

I would love to hand my (imaginary) child the entire Anne of Green Gables collection. I would love for her to read Laura Ingall’s Wilder. I can’t wait to read Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I can’t imagine buying my child the Twilight books (I don’t mean to belabour the point; I just really don’t like the books). I can’t imagine not raising a well read child who has a strong imagination and has lived in countless worlds via the written word.

Everytime someone laments how much they hate reading or writing, a little literary cherub has its wings ripped off midflight and tumbles to the earth, and I cry a little on the inside.

11 Comments

  1. I used to feel the way you do, but several years ago, I had a revelation. Reading isn’t something that’s natural to human beings. Expecting the mass of humanity to develop reading skills much beyond the utilitarian is an exercise in frustration. Reading for understanding and the beauty of language also takes intelligence over and above the average of 100. Add in the simple fact that most homes have few or no books, children’s only contact with literature is in school. Not enough to develop their skills, and also an environment that generally makes reading a chore like any other. That knowledge makes it much easier for me to accept the overwhelming prevalence of semi-literacy.

    • 2blu2btru

      That just makes me even more saddened! I grew up positively surrounded by books. People were always giving me books to read (probably, I know see, because no one else wanted to read them). I had so many people encouraging me to read and learn and develop as a human being. I don’t want to imagine children growing up without that (although I know they do). 🙁

  2. Kaye Peters

    I would always get “What the heck are you going to do with an English major?” It would never fail that after about 3 seconds of silence on my part they would follow that up with “Oh, you’re going to be a teacher! That’s nice.” It would take me several seconds of deep breathing before I could even muster enough strength to look at them without beating them over the head with my well-used copy of “Pride and Prejudice.”

    Books were always highly regarded in my house growing up. Some of my favorite childhood memories were when my mom and I would walk to our town’s library to pick up a new book. When the weather’s nicer I’m taking my oldest to get her first library card. I’m very excited.

    You could blame the schools, teachers, tv, media, movies, etc, on children (and adults) looking unfavorably on books, but I think it starts at home. Parents need to take the time when the kids are young to introduce them into the world of reading. The hard part for parents is trying to keep flame alive throughout the teen years when friends become more influencing than the parents.

    • 2blu2btru

      That conversation was one of the most dreaded parts of my existence. I wrote in my journal about it once, describing the way people’s mouths wiggled up and down like a fish flopping around on a boat when I said I wanted to be a writer. I came to love the conversation just to see that look. 😉

      My love of reading was definitely passed down to me. My mother reads a lot (mostly Harlequin Romances nowadays) and used to write poetry. My dad writes, mostly church plays and Christian living books.

      I will definitely take responsibility for creating the love of reading in my imaginary children’s lives! 😀

  3. Denisha

    Talk about being dramatic (says the math person)!! 🙂 Not everyone will have a passion for the same things you do or think the world needs it in some way but I have an deep respect for your expertise (I am one of many who don’t know what’s a split infinitive) because we all should build on and appreciate each others’ strengths. I honestly love your passion for writing and everything literary because it’s contagious….I just direct mine towards stupid math stuff.

    • 2blu2btru

      I know, I know! But don’t kick it down, either! I didn’t tell her “oh, math sucks! I hate polynomials. I want to kick them in the head!” (LOL) It’s not that people don’t have a passion for English, they hate it. That’s what’s sad. You’re always going to need English (just like I’ll always need math, no matter how much I’d prefer not having to know any); why be opposed to it? I agree–utilize and build on the knowledge of others.

      I think this is the first time I can say I appreciate being contagious. 😀 Perhaps I SHOULD be a teacher. Maybe sway some folks to my side. 😉

  4. Denisha

    And I think of you every time I attempt to read “The Souls of Black Folks”…difficult read for me and I think I’m fairly intelligent. I’m still on chapter 1 🙁

    • 2blu2btru

      You can do it! Just keep a dictionary handy. It’s definitely a slow read. But it’s yielded some of my favorite quotes, such as the quote on my facebook page under my picture. Reminds me, I need to read that again. Isn’t the first chapter where he introduces double consciousness with the story of the Valentine’s cards?

      • Denisha

        Ummm, I think so….I should seriously start over from page 1. Lol, a good contagious is something to smile about. You should teach. Maybe smaller children while they still find books/stories interesting or a class students serious about learning will eagerly register for (AP course maybe). Those would prb be mutually beneficial.

  5. Hi,

    I stumbled upon your blog by chance… And I do have to completely agree with you on this post.. I majored in Business Administration because my Mum told me to as she herself was a English Lit Grad… Although I too considered a English Lit degree at first am now happy that I did graduate in Business Admn but started to pen down stories and thoughts as a let out… Will definitely drop by once again

    Best Wishes,
    Addy

    • 2blu2btru

      Sadly, the pursuit of arts and letters is not a very profitable one anymore. I’m glad that your decision to major elsewhere worked out for you. I’m sure I could have done something else and continued to write, but I think my decision was best for me. Of course, I could have stopped being a coward and majored in Creative Writing, but I wasn’t entirely set on being a starving artist ;-).

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