There were times in undergrad I was a begrudging English major. It wasn’t I didn’t love words—I did, and still do. It was more that there were certain authors and playwrights I loved and others, I absolutely loathed. Case in point:
But I digress. When I found my early 90s embellished copy of The Dubliners this week, it made me miss my Norton Anthologies. If you were an English major, you know the texts of which I speak. I lugged those Nortons, with their phone book heft and paper-thin pages, throughout my undergraduate years in Ohio. I underlined with love. I annotated with care. The pages were well-thumbed, critically poured over and never, ever marked-up in anger a la The Dubliners. I loved my Nortons. After college, I heaved them to graduate school in New York City, where they sat largely untouched on a bookshelf for years, collecting dust as I scampered off into new areas of writing. Then, decades later, I hauled them down to the book donation shelf in my building’s laundry room and left them there before moving with my husband. And now, I miss them so much.
The fact that I so blithely donated these tomes—books that years ago I thoughtfully plucked out of the Usedsection at the campus bookstore because they weren’t marked up and therefore were available for my own notations—appalls me now. Granted, I was a journalist then and was much more keen to read The Economistor digest economic figures than analyze a short story or novel. And when you’re moving in with the person you’re going to walk down every road in life with, sometimes it’s best not to haul every book and piece of paper along for the journey. The sheer amount stuff that I’d crammed into my 300-square-foot apartment over the years was alarming–editing it down was necessary. Of course, I still showed up at our new apartment with 10 comforters, whose bulkiness ate up so much space, my husband blanched. But the Nortons? Those relatively compact gems that would have had a cozy nook all their own on our bookshelf, I abandoned them (sniff…sniff).
As they say, times, they do change, and my endeavors to write my own book have brought me back to literature, where I started. Now I’m thinking back to all those English courses, all those professors I had, all the stories I read, all the critical thinking and interpretation I did, and, of course, all the papers my roommate and I stayed up all night writing because we were such horrible procrastinators. (I miss you, Em!) And, it goes without saying that I’m lamenting the fact that I’m Norton-less, that the texts to my literary education, the ones with all my notes on passages that struck a chord, are gone.
But James Joyce’s craptastic Dubliners? That I still have. Perhaps it’s my penance.