As an immigrant to America who arrived after graduating from college, I missed out reading the classics of American literature, not to mention learning about historical events that are referred to in shorthand by their names (Appomattox, Valley Forge, and the like) that most native-born Americans get as part of their schooling. I have tried to fill in my knowledge these cultural touchstones as best I can, with varying levels of success.
When it comes to literature, I have had mixed success. I have tried reading the American classics and liked some (Mark Twain and John Steinbeck’s works, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Scarlet Letter) while not making much headway with others and finding them either boring or somewhat pointless (Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, William Faulkner’s works).
One can’t blame the latter authors for my not getting their work because my reading tastes are somewhat lowbrow and tend to favor story and characters over writing style and descriptive prose. I am a reader who tends to miss deep symbolism. If you have a message for me, tell it to me straight, is my attitude.
My most recent failure was with Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road that I tried to read over the past few days. I was drawn to it because I kept coming across references to it as the great American novel that captured the countercultural life of what the author referred to as the beat generation. Critics have said that the book is largely drawn from Kerouac’s own life and the characters in his book are lightly disguised people from real life such as William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. The book seemed like something I should be familiar with.
I quickly got tired of it. Set in 1948/1949, it seemed to consist of a group of young people frenetically going from place to place across the US, adding and shedding people along the way, without much point. After persevering through half the book, I found it too repetitive and stopped reading it altogether.
I think my problem is that writing style alone does not satisfy me. I quickly tire of lyricism and poetic imagery and writing flourishes and yearn to have the story move forward and seem like it is getting somewhere. This is probably why I went into science rather than literature.