a brief foray in Southern American Literature

Early in my career as a college student I chose classes with all the acuity of an epileptic baby seal. I was young in the process of figuring out that my love of reading was useful and not just a past-time I indulged on weekends. I was a Public Relations major taking about 9 out of 12 hours in Literature. Like I said, acuity of an epileptic baby seal.

One such class was Southern American Literature, an interesting genre for sure, not to be confused with Literature from South America (the continent). No, we spent the 18 weeks of the semester reading book after book filled with the insecurities and insanities of Americans raised in the Southern part of the United States. I read Other Voices, Other Rooms by Capote, John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and of course William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury. It was a depressing semester.

In high school I’d taken an American Literature course. We started that class with a collection of essays written by an explorer traipsing through the swampy bits of the South. In college I got to revisit these essays. It turned the swampy, sandy landscape of Florida into a monster inhabited, humidity soaked, land of the crazies. (Just imagine the description of Alligators from a guy who had never seen anything like it before.)

I mentioned yesterday that I felt Curious Incident may one day replace The Sound and The Fury. I have two friends that are high school English teachers and sometimes I imagine myself in their shoes. I imagine myself (a bit like Dead Poets Society) inspiring my students with a lifelong passion for reading great literature. But the reality is something a bit more like this comic my friend Jenna has hanging on her wall:

Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis

Now, I’m not a teacher and by no means do I think that I can do a better job than the men and women who currently teach English. But some books serve as sorts of gateway drugs into heavier Literature. My brain works by connecting elements. It happens naturally for me – finding patterns in Literature, Art, Music, and Film. I think attacking a topic from several different angles allows you to discover not only more interesting aspects of that topic, but new ways to communicate them as well.

Curious Incident is a much easier read than The Sound and the Fury and it can be used to start a conversation about narrators with intellectual disabilities.  In Literature Unreliable Narrators make stories absolutely fascinating and what makes The Sound and The Fury worth reading is how unfathomable it is. We use language to communicate. The urge to write something down is a manifestation of this stronger urge to communicate. The fact that someone could write structured piece (and by that I mean not just nonsensical gobble-di-gook like: aiw adjnsf aowiejt oigub) and still fail to communicate. It’s terrifying. For a brief space of time the reader can see into a world entirely different than their own. After all, that’s often why we read: to see the world in a new way. Or to, you know, get really, really frustrated by an incomprehensible narrator.

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