The MFA has given me a reading complex.
Not the kind of complex where I feel insecure and acutely aware of my own limited perspective of the literary world (okay, I guess yes this kind of complex), and not the kind of complex where I’ve suddenly turned averse to reading and find myself Netflixing compulsively (although I dream of having this one), and not exactly the kind of complex where I’m mapping literary references onto the real world and astutely quoting Emerson to my non-MFA friends and family.
The kind of reading complex the MFA has gifted me is the kind that makes me love piles of the unread. Piles of the unread everywhere. Whole bookstore and warehouses and libraries stacked full of piles of books. Piles of books in my backpack. Piles of books on my nightstand, on my bookshelves, in my car, under my coffee table. Piles of books in my professor’s offices, in the grad lab, at the coffee shop. I couldn’t read them all even in my loveliest daydreams.
It doesn’t matter, though. The MFA has taught me that. It doesn’t quite matter that I know everything or that I don’t know everything; I know what I need to know. I find what I need to find, I stumble across the pages I’m meant to. Last year (my first year in this program) I was incredibly intimated by all the smart and beautiful people around me, how they made reference to poets and writers I’d never even heard of. I nodded along and pretended that I, too, had read the entirety of that particular writer’s work, and I, too, thought it ironic that they now had a book out about dragonflies.
This semester I have a different approach, I humbly admit that I haven’t read that author and add it to my pile of unread.
The pile of unread that I’m looking at right now: Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Moby Dick by Herman Mellville, Homeric Hymns edited and translated by Martin West, Edith by Meg Freitag, No Shape Bends the River So Long by Monica Berlin and Beth Marzoni, Ocular Proof by Martha Ronk, Once in the West by Christian Wiman, The Noncomformist’s Memorial by Susan Howe, a whole unread copy of last month’s Ploughshares, a few cookbooks (aprox 500 pages each), and some weighty anthologies that look like they’ve been through a decade or three.
I’m not a prolific reader. I’m not even a prolific writer. The only prolific tendencies I have are to breathe air and eat mashed potatoes. But here I am, collecting books by the droves. Their spines are just so pretty, all of their names unique, all of their dedications little tokens of love. If all the stars align in the sky I may find time to wade through these books before the semester has run its course. More likely, though, this pile of unread will remain a pile of unread for some time.
I’ll get there; I’ll read what I’m supposed to read. The rest will stack up and up and I’ll love them that way. Who doesn’t adore their own afflictions from time to time?