Monday, May 1, 2017

On Reading

Every day in the late afternoon, I sit with a hot cup of tea and read.  While it may sound indulgent to make time for books, it's more of a necessity for me.  It's my solace from the responsibilities and constraints of adult life.  With my nose in a book sitting on my couch, I can go anywhere and live a thousand lives with none of the pesky real life consequences interfering.  I know this sounds all sentimental and Reading Rainbowish.  But, it's not all that simple.  I need, a challenge.  Lately, in response to the politics of our president, I've made a conscious effort to read more books written by foreigners, minorities and women.  Bonus, if the author fits all three categories.

I'm aware I'm not saving the world. 
I just want to understand it. 

When a friend recommended I read, Reading Lolita in Tehran, it seemed like the perfect fit for me.  1.  It's a memoir.  2.  It's set in Iran.  3.  It's about a secret gathering of women from Iran reading forbidden Western classics.  A perfect fit in theory anyway.  Because: 1.  I've requested Nabokov's  Lolita from the library no less than five times and returned it unread every time.  2.  I can't get over the fact that in the book an adult male obsesses over his sexual interest in a 12 year old girl.  3. And this is the big one...I currently have a 12 year old daughter.  But, I'm not actually reading the book Lolita, I reasoned. I'm reading about other people reading it. I can do this.

So, I started in on the first chapter.  About how Professor Azar Nafisi established the reading group after she resigned her academic post in Tehran.  And then, they began reading Nabokov and that's when I lost interest and put the book down, which I almost never do, not sure if I'd ever finish it.  In the interim,  I read three books before I finally picked it up again to give it another try.  The truth was, I didn't lose interest in reading the book.  That's just what I told myself.  I was so averse to Lolita, it was to the point of being hostile.  This about a book that I'd never read.  Which when I think about it, seems utterly ridiculous.  Especially, when I think of myself as an unprudish, open-minded reader.  It's just a book.  But, it's never just a book. 

Books have power.  
As evidenced by the power Lolita has over me.
And I haven't even read it.

I was ready to give Reading Lolita another chance, reluctantly at first.  But, I did love hearing about the women in the group and what their lives were like a world away from mine.  If nothing else, this was worth another cup of jasmine tea and a couple more hours of my time.  They'd already finished discussing Lolita and now were on to reading The Great Gatsby, and other books after that.  Not only did I end up finishing the book, I really liked it.  What I look for in a book is transformations.  I want the characters I read about to evolve.  And I want to cultivate an understanding as to why they did.  

But, this book only left me with more questions.  Why am I so antagonistic about reading Lolita?  After all, I've read and loved books that are confrontational.  Ones that are gruesome and horrific.  With repugnant characters.  Why is this book holding me hostage?  Obviously, there's only one solution.  I have to read Lolita.  After all, it's a classic for a reason.  And I need to know why.

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