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Breath & Shadow

Fall 2009 - Vol. 6, Issue 3

"On Reading Books"

written by

Bill Turley

When I consider my lifetime of reading, I know I must look at it through a skewed lens due to my particular mix of learning disabilities. My Cerebral Palsy prevents me from writing legibly, while ADD affects my reading speed and comprehension. It is, however, a reading life worth examining.


The literature on reading disabilities is thorough and vast, and probably will do nicely without my musings. Despite this, my reading and comprehension skills do play a role in the story, and provide a couple of interesting ironies.


Due to my various disabilities, there are many things that I can’t do as well as others. By the time I reached college, I understood that there were things I had to leave behind because my disability just made it impossible for me to excel. For example, when I was in grade school I played piano. I was taking lessons regularly at the age of ten. In 6th grade, I started playing trombone. When I got to high school, I wasn't good enough to make any of the bands, so by the end of high school, I had to shelve my plans to pursue music in a serious way. I think that is why I came to literature--I saw it as a relatively level playing field.


In tenth grade, when we were beginning to study literature in English class, I became fascinated because the class discussion was about personal relationships of characters, and their conflicts and thought processes. This satisfied a hunger in me that my youth prevented me from fully understanding. Despite this, I intuitively gravitated toward discussions of literature.


When I enrolled in Oklahoma State University, I was clueless about the future, but English literature seemed like a natural choice for a major. I realized the ratio of women to men would be in my favor. This, coupled with a burgeoning interest in writing, seemed to cinch the deal.


Enter the first Irony. Here was a kid who had the reading speed of a drunk snail, with reading comprehension problems and illegible handwriting to boot, entering a field which demanded deep reading and analytical skills, as well as the ability to write about what is being read. I just knew I had found a home. My interests were unremarkable but compelling enough. I had read Joyce's, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the summer of my junior year in high school while on a family vacation. Of course it was so far over my head that it might has well have been a graduate level Physics text, but I had established a habit of reading beyond my comprehension. This habit began the year prior when I read Sartre on existentialism. My belief was that even though I missed most of what I read, I had an unwavering faith that I would be enriched somehow by the miracle of osmosis. Imagine my surprise when I realized in my sophomore year in college that the faith I had placed in the scientific process was tragically misplaced. Here I was smack dab in the middle of three heavy reading classes. I felt my learning was regressing into some spaghetti plate of thought fragments. To remedy the situation, I enrolled in a Modern Novels class the following semester, which only required reading 12 novels. Enter Chaos.


One evening, I was taking refuge in the OSU library trying to figure out how I could bluff my way through a paper on D.H. Lawrence. I wasn't even half way through the assigned novel when I stumbled across a book of critical essays on his body of work. The next thing I knew it was 11:50, and the ten-minute closing library bell was clanging.


The next morning I was reading these essays and noticed in the citation section references to magazine articles appearing in publications such as the Dial and the Atlantic monthly. These articles became a way into novels for me that would at least keep me in the ballpark during class discussions, plus help me on my Lawrence paper.


Of course, I knew this was somewhat fraudulent, but at least I wasn't going through dumpsters for discarded mimeographs of tests.


This was before journals were archived on microfiche, and I was able to view the actual bound journals, read original essays, and get a general feel for a response to a work as well as a look at what was going on in the culture at the time of the work. This vicarious way of experiencing literature became a journey of redemption for me in my remaining college years. I was fairly successful in my upper division classes despite my lack of growth in the experience of reading. Literature became for me a reflection of culture, a conduit for the discussion of important contemporary thought. I had found a niche for myself: that of providing social commentary by looking through works of literature and art.


For me, it was the family dynamics so present in Lawrence's Sons and Lovers that was both compelling and arresting. The triangle of Paul, his mother, and Miriam was continuously changing structure, and with each variation it impelled each character to a dark climax that perhaps reflected Lawrence's struggle with his own demons. This may be why I was so attracted to the novel. Like the character Paul, I favored my Mother because I had a tenuous relationship with my father.


In Sons and Lovers, Lawrence asks us to look at the relationship between Paul and his mother without any type of moral lens that we might bring from our own interpretations. It is not clear to me if Lawrence was concerned about his place in relation to the modern novel or in the reader’s search for meaning. But the manner in which he presents his stories is so bold that it stands with all its imperfections as a Milestone in the way we look at the novel.


Perhaps in Son's and Lovers, Lawrence is challenging us to suspend our primary sense of family structure, and look at the mother son relationship from the standpoint of a human to human relationship. Through this challenge he creates a compelling story that has stood the test of time. It has also connected me personally to the study of literature and fostered a lifetime love of books for which I am grateful most every day.

Bill Turley is a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in English and Creative Writing. He first began publishing in small magazines in the late 1970's. In 1991 a book length poetry manuscript, Something As Reckless As Wind, won a literary arts grant in Tulsa. Bill has read several times for The State Arts Council and has been an instructor for Oklahoma's Artist in the Schools Program. He was the only local semifinalist in the annual Nimrod International Journal awards contest two different years. Titles of poems that have been published in other journals include Weaver's Dream, Cycle In the Sweet Grass, In October, Hiding, My Fathers' Etude, and the Winter Farm (as a chapbook). Bill also published three poems in The Blue Collar Review. He is currently working on a book of poems, and editing a book on Eastern and Western psychology.

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