Everybody knows that English major type who can quote famous authors verbatim. At the end of the night your buddy, who has been drunkenly hitting on all the women at the party and bragging about his novel that’s about to be published, turns to the crowd and charmingly slurs, “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended”* and everybody laughs and forgets he’s kind of a dork. Or your girlfriend says coyly, “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky”** and she sounds kind of sexy.
I can’t do this. The only literature or quote I have memorized is “The Jabberwoky” from Lewis Carroll and that’s only because a summer theater program I was in when I was 12 performed it.
The best I can do is say something like, “Didn’t Thoreau say something about a pond and how it’s like a long life and then…oh, I forget how it goes.”
The English majors I know are always pulling out perfect quotes and themes and concepts from our long work as English majors. They got something out of those years with their noses in books – or at least they remember more of it than I do.
When I read a book, it goes into the category of LIKED and DIDN’T LIKE. *** I remember the major plot points. Sometimes I remember something funny or a funny scene. I have read exactly one Thomas Pynchon book, The Crying of Lot 49, and I remember this: they’re playing strip Botticelli in the bathroom and the hairspray can is flying around the room.
Other people have a maddening capacity for recollection. Husband, for example, remembers everything he reads and he reads really fast. I read slowly, and I barely remember what I read two pages ago. Other people remember who said what – Woolf and Dostoevsky, Dunne and Yeats, Dickens, Dickinson, Shelley, Kerouac, and O’Connor. I can’t remember what happens in The Faerie Queen or why I should remember it. I’ve read The Canterbury Tales three times for school and…well…there was a mooning scene, right?
What the heck was I doing with my English major? And what was I reading? I think of all the books in the English major’s literary arsenal, I come up short on the side of ones I’ve read. I don’t think the Dresden Files are going to make it into college classrooms anytime soon. It all makes me feel like a bad English major. Like I should remember more about the great literature I studied for so long.
There’s just so bloody much to read!
*I had to look this quote up to get the words right.
**10 points to you if you can finish the simile.
***My apologies to all my grad school professors who said that it no longer mattered if you like the book, we’re not reading for plot, and can you please just give me a Marxist critique of this novel?