Friday, April 15, 2011
Book #44: Looking Back on Thoreau, One Year Later
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden
It’s amazing how much my outlook on life has changed since I started this blog almost a year ago. My aim was simple: I wanted to blog about the books that have uplifted and inspired and occasionally infuriated me – particularly at crisis points in my life. I wanted to explore how reading has pulled me through some really difficult times – my career change, my search for love, my grandmother’s death, which unearthed some dark family secrets – and most importantly, I wanted to share my experiences with a community of avid readers, rather than erudite scholars.
When I moved back to Toronto a few years ago, I was walking away from the only world I’d known for the past twelve years – the Ivory Tower. After two years as an English prof in small town Nova Scotia, I’d had a breakdown and burnt out for a variety of reasons, including a couple of bad love affairs, academic politics, and the humiliation of having some students name me “The Worst Professor Ever” on the worldwide web, to name just a few of my troubles. And worst of all, after my three degrees, I’d somehow lost along the way my love of literature. That was what I wanted back most badly. My childhood love of reading and writing.
As I go back and reread my first post on Thoreau from a year ago (you can read it here), I’m struck by how much happier I am now. That post was based on musings in a notebook I’d kept while at the depths of my misery as a professor, so my amazement in looking back is doubly refracted through my remembrance of the “me” I was a year ago and the “me” I was three years ago, as I stared out my university office window at a beautiful, bucolic landscape and could see nothing but my own entrapment in the wilds of nowhere…. At the time, I’d been reading and teaching a lot of Thoreau, and it incensed me that his grand vision of Nature did not, through my depressed eyes, live up to expectation. And his snobbish view that the “works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them” rankled me – it was precisely this view of reading-as-the-art-form-of-the-elite-few that I so desperately wanted to get away from.
Funny how my impression of a text always has so much to do with my mood.
Over the past week, I’ve been rereading Walden, as I put the finishing touches on my own memoir, The Reading List: Literature, Love and Back Again, being published this fall (something else that's making me happy these days.... Not that I'm not still prone to bouts of bluesiness and depression). This time around, I met a different Thoreau, one whose bedraggled beard and constant, poignant searching for some deeper meaning to life filled me with sympathy. What reader isn’t hoping to find some marvelous, inspiring insight springing from the world of literature, lifting her above the drudgery of everyday life? This way of reading isn’t only for the elite few, I see now – it’s for readers as diverse as me and Thoreau.
Photo from: here
- Leslie Shimotakahara
- Toronto, ON, Canada
- Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.