Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Road Trip Wednesdays: Favorite Required Reading!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.
This Week's Topic is: Back to school time! What's your favorite book that you had to read for a class?
Hola (that's from 7th grade Espanol Uno)!  Sorry I have been incognegro for a few days.  I wish I could say it's because I am recuperating from a wild Labor Day Holiday trip down in the Big Easy.  But, sadly we never made it.  Issac owes me BIG TIME!  Although, we definitely made up for it!  I promise not to only post on Wednesdays and will definitely make it up to you all (all 13 of you ;).

Let's hop to this weeks RTW!  I alluded to 7th grade Espanol, however, I am going to take this week's RTW back to college...mainly because everything I read in middle school and high school is pretty much a blur to me.  
I was an English Lit major at the University of Maryland in College Park (GO TERPS!) and if there was one book I remember, still go to, and turned my head around, upside down, inside out, it was Cane by Jean Toomer.
From GoodreadsA literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.
This book was assigned to me in a course I took on the Harlem Renaissance.  I immediately fell in love with it.  I related to it in a way that I wasn't truly prepared for because, although I wanted to write back then, I didn't know that writing like this existed.  This book was almost like a gift from a ghost, as if ancestor maybe...reached down and put this book in my hands to remind me of where I came from.  
I grew up on a dirt road, in the south in the 80s and 90s and I felt like Jean Toomer took me out of the "city" (well, it was pretty city to me) of College Park, MD back home to rural Ashland, VA, where cows roamed around on the farm across the street from my high school.  Although this book was a reflection of a time that I could never and would never truly understand because of my privileged circumstance of being born when I was, the time period depicted in this novel (if it can truly be called that) did not matter, because ultimately the vignettes, the poems, the spirituals, were about the people, not necessarily the place or the time.  And, I knew these people.  They were alive and vivid to me because they were my family, they were the people that went to my church, they were part of the stories I thought of every time I thought about home.   
I am not saying the book is not without its faults.  I am quite partial to the first half of the novel.  It is also quite complicated and generally it takes much interpretation and sometimes complete mind-bending to understand much of it.  However, what I also fell in love with was the mix of genres that is the base of the book's structure.  This, again, is a reflection of who I was at the time I read it.  I prided myself on being a poet, you see.  I still think of myself that way, but I am now into using poetic elements in my fiction that I think will enhance the prose.  I don't really write poetry anymore, although I miss it.  However, if I were so bold, I would write something like this...avant garde, original, complex, and so utterly soulful that it even includes negro spirituals.  And like Toomer, I would probably confuse the hell out of anyone who read it.
I don't think I can recommend this book to everyone.  It's not for everyone.  It's not the type of book you pick up and are thoroughly entertained.  
It's the type of book you pick up to examine.  
It's the type of book you get a highlighter out, draw boxes around sentences, underline passages, dog ear, and repeat lines of over and over until you think you have figured out what he is talking about (isn't that why they gave us required reading in the first place?).
It is the kind of book that will make you want to read Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larson, and W.E.B DuBois. 
 It's the type of book that will make you want to eat some fat back, watch dusts of red clay billow down a dirt road, or listen to some jazz.  
For me, it's the type of book that makes me want to write and I pick it up every now and then (like now it is actually sitting on my desk) to remind me what character means to any piece of work, whether it is fiction, poetry, songwriting, or whatever the hell else you want to write about.  Because it's that type of book too: that throws conventional rules of structure out the door to create one giant piece of just plain old art
This ain't for the average folk.
Alice Walker said of Cane, “It has been reverberating in me to an astonishing degree. I love it passionately, could not possibly exist without it.”  
I couldn't have said it better myself.