These days, I am reading Seabiscuit, which I bought for $1 at a library sale at a Fourth of July parade. I thought: I can do it, I can read nonfiction. And I'd read a moving essay from the author in The New Yorker on her illness—I knew I liked her writing. Everyone loved it. I would probably love it too.
But I didn't, at least not at first, and I got into a frame of mind that is very familiar to me: a sort of defiant, irritable, resentful "This is bullshit" stance.
Alongside this (because my life is not, despite how it might feel to me, solely concerned with what I am currently reading) I was wrangling with my husband, Aragorn (yeah, that's right), about something else. He was suggesting something. I was…dismissing it. But the mind frames? They were the same, they felt the same. And as we went back and forth over it, he said one of those things that echoes louder and louder in your ears the more it stews in your brain: "You know, dismissing something as bullshit is maybe not the most helpful way to think about it."
Which, of course, called to me attention that this is more or less how I react to everything. Especially unfamiliar things I read. Even more especially, anything that calls into question the way I am doing things.
Why is this? Because the thing is, just between you and me, he's right. It feels helpful when I'm doing it, as though that petty satisfaction is actually a pure and flaming judgment, that I am breaking through what the world is trying to tell me and am instead finding something True.
But all too often, in books and, really, everything else, it's more about defensiveness and this nameless fear, as though I'm worried that letting something in will throw me off whatever precarious balance I've been able to find.
It's not that I think all judgment should be suspended forever exactly. I mean, I have worked my way to the end of Seabiscuit, and I learned somethings (I am not cut out to be a jockey), and I cared (what is that weird, human compulsion to care about which one wins?), but it did not break my heart open, which is what I am really looking for a book to do. But it's a good book, certainly worth reading.
So why did I dismiss it? What is this dismissiveness that sits so ready to spring to mind when I ask my mind to look at anything at all? I am beginning to feel that it is just another way in which fear infiltrates me, shutting me off from great, bold leaps. I have dismissed so many books, so many authors, and what if it wasn't just "DeLillo just doesn't work for me." What if it was, "I can't deal with the complicated difference this offers from other narratives and it scares me and I will turn away now?"
4 thoughts on “Dismiss”
For the record, Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is better than Seabiscuit…but I’m not sure it will break your heart open. That is also what I like books to do.
I feel this way, sometimes; especially when someone I love, or whose opinion I really respect, suggests a book/thing to me and I just… don’t get it. I mean, sometimes it’s just a matter of different tastes, but other times it’s a matter of me being all “Nope. Just Nope.” And I don’t particularly like that side of myself,but I’m not sure how to change it/whether it’s something I should change, either.
This is a wonderful question you ask, and I wish all of us readers asked it of ourselves more often.
Thanks for this.