One of my great passions in life is reading. It’s been a little over a month since school let out and I’ve read no less than four novels, one memoir, and about seven graphic novels. I decided it might be interesting to start keeping track of what I’ve read and what I’m learning from these stories and their tellers.Should be a fun summer learning to write from professors Wilde, Pierce, Moore, and whoever else joins the list.
So, the first book report (how’s this for some throwback nostalgia?) is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
Now, I’ll go ahead and give you the heads up that I didn’t read good ol’ Dorian Gray in High School because I was home schooled and pretty much dictated my own reading assignments. I read a lot of terrible historical fiction written by this guy named Gilbert Morris and some good stuff by Francine Rivers. What can I say; I had limited access to anything but the library at the Christian school where my mom taught.
I was first introduced to the plot of Dorian by this very random girl I met a few years ago in a horrendous line at some HCC campus. She did a terrible job of explaining it and I wasn’t interested because it just seemed to me to be a rip off of the Narcissus myth. I hadn’t reached my appreciation of Greek mythology in Literature phase.
Then I met him again a few months ago scrolling through all my Wii-flix options. He was played by that kid that played the Spanish then English Prince Caspian. Colin Firth played Lord Henry Wotton. I watched this ridiculously long movie (that takes creative license for sure) and decided I should do it justice and read it. Plus, I enjoy Wilde… or so I thought.
I found Dorian Gray sort of dull. I believe that a lot of the intricacies of the storytelling are lost on the modern mind due to the fact that scandal is sort of our bread and butter at this point. TMZ is on television every night, the Casey Anthony trial is being televised. Scandal is something for which we unabashedly turn our necks into rubber. The prolonged appearance of youth is something that is still quite sought after in modern times and is a bit more achievable than it was when Oscar Wilde was Dandying around London. (Sidenote: I love that he capitalized Dandyism).
Also, most of the scandal of the novel is implied. A fact which I found rather frustrating. Particularly since it meant I read a chapter that covered twenty years and described in detail most of Dorian’s really odd collections and wardrobe eccentricities rather than his habits.
Lord Henry Wotton’s habit of speaking in paradoxes rubbed off on me and for a few days I bothered my friend Jenna with strange Wotton-esque statements. He also provided me some serious food for thought due to one particular passage. In this passage he discusses the paradox that great artists rarely live interesting lives while the infamous, scandalous artists may be better known despite the lack of quality exhibited in their work. It gave me some hope as an aspiring writer that is easily confused with a goody-two-shoes.
Overall, I’m glad I read Dorian Gray. It’s an important part of Literary history and it will be entertaining to play Wotton in social settings. The experience reminded me of a class discussion last semester. After reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, I was complaining about some writing technique he’d employed and my professor asked me if I was down on Collins. To which I responded that his stuff (as well as Thomas Hardy’s) wouldn’t fly in any of the writing workshops I sit through. Snarky as that sounds I don’t really have a bad attitude about these Victorian writers. Many of their innovative techniques have become our cliches and common tropes. Vague and didactic as Wilde seemed to me his writing reflects a keen understanding and communication of his society. That’s something I want to learn to emulate.
So I give The Picture of Dorian Gray an arbitrary out of 5.
Next on the list:
Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore