One of the more troubling experiences of my senior year in college was the infrequent-but-still-too-frequent return of recent alumni. Those of us with undetermined futures flocked to these then-departed-happily-now-returned-lost-and-battered souls and asked them how life was, if it was weird to be at home, if they missed the cheap pitchers and general conviviality of our college bar scene; expressed sympathy that they had not even been called back for an interview at Barnes & Noble; and nodded as they told us that it was a genuine treat being able to read something freely, free of assignment and class discussion and 300-level contemplation.
The living at home, unemployed, longing for college times aspects of being a postgrad were not really frightening to me; it’s the bill that comes due for a great four years. (Putting aside mentions of actual bills that come due for a great four years for obvious reasons.)
It was that last bit about reading for pleasure that always struck me in a weird way. The pressure to read didn’t cease at commencement; in some ways, it increased. No longer could I defend my having never read ULYSSES with a shrug and a “Too busy reading shitty lit for shitty lit class, man.” I now had to read—not for the 18-odd peers in my ENG 241—but because it was, in some ways, a societal expectation: reading for pleasure.
And pleasure! What pleases me? What do I like? I can’t just throw my hands up and give an “I like what I like,” ala some out of touch Midwestern father defending his Redbox selection of, let’s say, “The Dilemma.” Having a sense of what you actually enjoy is, well, important if you want to find things you enjoy, and important if you want to be an adult.
Pleasure, in college literature classes, is barely a consideration. Most professors would dismiss talk about a book’s likability as mindless bookclubbing—a compelling argument, to be sure.
I had then and still have now a much clearer idea of what I don’t like. I won’t bore you with negative detail, though I will tell you that if Hell is not only a real place but also a personal den of suffering, custom-fit with meticulous cruelty for each inhabitant, my eternity would be spent listening to fresh-faced first-year Lit majors discuss Sarah Waters’ AFFINITY, the various repressive forces placed on the women—nay, lesbian women!—of Victorian England, and how Waters turns such repression into metaphorical I ALREADY WANT TO SHOVE PENCILS IN MY EARS AND EYES. Oh, and Malcolm Gladwell would be playing foosball with Thomas Friedman somewhere in the room.
All right. Had to come down from that. But seriously.