I’ve started a new book, finally, and it’s taken me absolutely no time at all to get into it! This is good news, and practically a miracle, because I’ve been struggling with feeling less than excited to read recently. I finished all but one of the stories in Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story collection featuring Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and although I really enjoyed how creepy and eerie the narratives were, I didn’t feel passionate about reading them after a long day of work, on the equally long bus ride home. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Stevenson’s writing style and voice very much (I am, after all, a Victorianist to the end of time), but I guess I found it difficult to get attached to and invested in stories that were only about 20 to 30 pages long. After the story of Jekyll and his evil alter ego, I found it hard to put myself into the other narratives with as much vigour.
And I struggled for days to figure out what to read next. At first, I thought I needed something by one of my favourite authors, something tried and tested. After that, I thought I needed a steamy summer romance. I just couldn’t put my finger on what book would get me out of my rut, would make me feel anxious to read during every moment of every day. Then, my boyfriend’s mother gave me a gift…a book that she had read, that we had discussed and that she really wanted me to read. It’s called Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, and I am absolutely obsessed with it at the moment! It’s about the Revolution in Iran, but also about Nafisi’s life as a professor of literature and about a private class she holds for some carefully selected students.
And here we have what draws me to this book and what has made me want to read it while I’m sitting at my desk, while I’m cramped up on a bus, basically anywhere. The way Nafisi describes books, the way she speaks so enthusiastically about them, and the entire structure of her private lessons is exactly what I have always wanted in my life. I’ve talked about my Master’s degree multiple times and on multiple pages of this blog, but I have to admit, part of me really really loved it. And I miss aspects of it every single day. But, it wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be…or no, it was exactly what I expected it to be…rather, it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. I had bright eyes, maybe naïve eyes, and I honestly thought that I would walk into classes and talk about characters as if they were a part of my life, talk about stories as if they were real. Part of me hoped that I would develop an intimate camaraderie and friendship with my professors, that we would become familiar and informal with one another, that we would sit around a coffee table together, or bundled on a sofa in front of a fire, and just talk and talk and gush and rave about the books that had always inspired us.
I don’t know what I was thinking because, let’s be real, most universities probably don’t operate that way…and I would probably be better off joining a book club if that’s the kind of atmosphere I crave. Or, at least that’s what I assumed until I started reading Nafisi’s memoir. I’ve selected two quotes today for my #JNGReads post that clearly illustrate the environment she created for her students:
“I chose seven of my best and most committed students and invited them to come to my home every Thursday morning to discuss literature.”
“…yet it seems as if they were the ones who created the class, who through some invisible agency led me to the present configuration in my living room.”
– Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
From what I can tell, Nafisi created a beautiful, safe space for her students to talk about literature…to talk not only about the texts themselves, but also about how those texts reflected and related to their own every day lives. And, she did all of this from her living room, from her own home, the spot where most people read and engross themselves in books, the spot where truly devoted readers ruminate on literature for hours on end. Isn’t a home, a warm and inviting home, the exact space where the discussion of literature should take place? Somewhere that people live authentically and comfortably and without academic artifice or constraints! Obviously I do need to join a book club, because I wish with every page I read of Nafisi’s book that my own degree had been just a little less rigid and a little more natural and free.
Anyway, I’m still on my journey with Nafisi and it is shaping up to be a very interesting one. I’m learning a lot about Iran and about the struggles Nafisi’s female students face, and there are definitely going to be many more passionate posts about these issues. But for now, I just wanted to say that I am there with Nafisi and her students, that I am so much a part of their class now…and it’s the class I’ve wanted to find and enroll in for my whole life!
Girl with a Green Heart