My book list is constantly growing. In fact, it is ridiculous. I am constantly scribbling down books professors suggest or ramble off during class, as well as things I come across in my reading for my english classes, blog book reviews, and my own avid curiosity to find good reads. But then I read something today that was a good smack in the face. Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his “The American Scholar” speech that, “The book, the college, the school of art, the institution of any kind, stop with some past utterance of genius. This is good, say they,-let us hold by this. They pin me down. They look backward and not forward. The eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead. Man hopes. Genius creates.”
He essentially tells his young audience that classics, works that have had success before us, should only put a fire in us, not to overly influence us to the point of trying to mimic them, meanwhile never creating anything new. It made perfect sense to me, especially lately. I have been scrambling to read as many works I can, that are now anthologized and held to this golden standard, so I can have enough knowledge in me to write something decent for my fiction writing class. While I believe it is a good way to start, it definitely shouldn’t “pin [you] down” as Emerson says. I think in some ways I let it do so. I want so badly to write something good that I think I must mimic what I know works, even if I initially wanted to try something different; something a professor would normally advise against, saying that it hardly ever works.
Then again, I am still feeling rebellious and thinking that I honestly don’t care if only three people in the world actually like what I write, that I am doing it for me. That being said- I suppose, my recent lesson in creativity is to not depend too much on what has worked in the past. I will always appreciate and even idolize those who have captured my imagination and worked their magic with the english language, but I no longer think it is the only way to go in looking for inspiration. I now know I must find my own genius (I don’t mean to say I am a genius, just to clarify) and my own expression of what I think is true. One of my favorite quotes about creativity is by C.S. Lewis-
” Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
It is a common assumption that we no longer can create anything new, and to a certain extent that is true, but we all have different perspectives. Because I am living, I am always learning new truths about the present time and myself.
Now, I am going to share my nerdiness and list all the books/stories that are on my to-read list…. some are sitting on my desk just teasing me to open them, but sadly, I don’t have the time. So, if you have happened to read them before me or already have- I’m jealous! Let me know what you think of them!
(In no particular order)
Entwined by Heather Dixon (teen fiction)
Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (adult fiction)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (classic fiction)
As I Lay Dying and A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner (classic, short stories)
Killings by Andre Dubus (suggested by a professor for creative writing)
Roman Fever by Edith Wharton (again, suggested by professor)
Works by Raymond Carver (I have no idea what, but a professor loves his writing)
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Conner (fiction, short story)
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (the whole thing)
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (British War of Roses, historical fiction)
Confessions by St. Augustine (autobiographical, philosophy)
The Queen’s Governess by Karen Harper (British historical fiction)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (classic, fiction)
For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (classic, fiction)
So as you can see, long list, lots of classic. I feel so behind and yet I’ve been reading avidly since elementary school, the list never ends!
As I read these I will post brief comments, especially on the newer books. Meanwhile, I will be reading for the rest of my life… 🙂 Again, if you have any comments about them let me know, or if you think of any I need to add (always looking for a good variety), I’m constantly looking for more no matter how overwhelming it can get!