Wednesday, March 11, 2009

College readings

The boys from Twilight as featured in V Man
If you can name at least 3 of them, you're either a girl or in college.

When I was in college, the book of choice was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Everyone was practically carrying it in their tote bags. It was required reading in many Humanities 1 (Literature) courses. I wasn't able to read Marquez's novel in college though. I took Hum 1 during the summer, so most of our readings were poetry, short stories, and plays. Still, it was a very fun class. Neil Garcia, our teacher, made the course something to look forward to, even though it had an 11 am to 1 pm schedule. One time we were asked to bring something erotic. The things we brought were a bra, a back scratcher shaped like a naked woman, a t-shirt with a picture of a naked woman, and a chocolate bar.

I recall carrying this book entitled Prism in College. I wonder if the book is still in print; I would definitely want a replacement copy. I read the short story “In a Grove” from Prism. The Japanese short story later on became the basis for Kurosawa's film “Rashomon.” I remember having a very heated but stimulating discussion about the short story in Garcia's class. In my Humanities 2 course (Art Appreciation), our teacher asked us to scour book covers and determine which covers work because of the visual elements.

I believe that the authors college students are into these days are Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, and Stephenie Meyer. I had a Murakami phase, although it was after college. I found The Wind-up Bird Chronicle simply brilliant. Dance Dance Dance is wonderful too. It's noir-ish. Murakami's talent lies in making the unprobable a seamless part of the story. The synopses on the back covers of Murakami's books do not fully encapsulate the convoluted worlds he conjures in the pages.

I think the appeal of Palahniuk has something to do with the shock value. His novels are gritty and are often gory and bordering on the obscene. Fight Club is effective in dissecting the theme of individuality, despite the book's violent tone. Those who haven't sampled Palahniuk's works should read Haunted. It's basically a collection of short stories woven into a novel. Some of the stories can really make you uncomfortable. For example, when one of the volunteers at a local police station discover that the officers are taking the anatomically correct doll at home just to have fun with it, she places razor blades in the doll's mouth, vagina, and rectum.

Now we get to Stephenie Meyer, who I'm not a big fan of. I was thrilled when my 14-year-old niece asked for the Twilight books for Christmas. Meyer's books target those ages. When you get to college though, shouldn't you be craving for more satisfying reading than goodlooking, teenage vampires? There's just so much to read out there. If you want a very good vampire novel, I highly recommend Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. Apparently, college students in the US are also hooked on Meyer's oeuvre, forsaking the wonderful works of the Beat poets.

College is the time we learn how to appreciate a good novel we don't usually pick up when we go to bookstores, to analyze poems that don't rhyme, to dissect plays that don't get performed, to interpret songs we don't hear over the radio. It's the time we experiment on things and go beyond our comfort zones. If college students spend way too much time and effort on books primarily geared toward teenage girls, learning about good literature is useless.