I read something over on Star’s blog that, in a perverse way, I was glad to read because Star is one whip-smart lady and if she is dumb, then that must make me High Priestess Dummy-pants. She talks about (among other things) reading critically and the experience of reading something and realizing that nothing is sinking in. I struggle with this often, so I thought that I’d rant a bit on the topic.
It’s frustrating for a smarty-pants who is trained to read critically to 1) lose this skill and feel dumb when she picks up Joyce on a whim or 2) refine this skill and find joy killed in most other aspects of her life.
It’s true that critical analysis usually increases my appreciation and enjoyment of a book (or movie, etc.), providing that what I’m analyzing is good. However, not everything I read is great Literature- I may be reading for fun. For instance, why would I want to obsess about the implications of indefinite article usage in post-modern literature when I’m re-reading my favorite childhood book for the gazillionth time? When I was working on upper-level undergrad and graduate literature classes, I couldn’t do any leisure reading immediately after papers/finals time. My brain needed decompression time and not just because of stress. I would read too much into everything. I would even communicate differently. And what about those occasions when I don’t want to think at all? I don’t want to sit down to watch an episode of Invader Zim and then over-analyze it to death when my goal is to relax. I don’t have an on/off switch. I’m either in the habit of thinking critically, or I’m not. It’s frustrating as hell.
I suppose I need to come to terms with the fact that there isn’t enough time for everything and that I have to make choices as how to use my time. If I want to tackle Joyce, I should exercise my brain regularly and expect to read too deeply into everything. On the other hand, I’m already a bit of a snob but when I’m in analytical mode, I’m obnoxious. After fifty pages, critical!Jen would have tossed aside Twilight. As a result, critical!Jen would have missed out on an excellent study in pop-culture phenomenon. I don’t want to be closed off to new ideas or experiences. I don’t want to be that person.
Perhaps there’s a middle ground. I have yet to find it.
In writing this, I realized that I have one exception to my lack of brain on/off switch: music. The experience of listening to music is usually visceral or even meditative for me. My brain seems to be bypassed completely. I can be in critical!Jen mode and still enjoy music without over-thinking it. There’s no need for the on/off switch. Maybe I tend to prefer music without words because language pulls me back into critical thinking mode…