reading ray in october

On Monday at the HCC Writing Center, during a lull in the stream of students who inevitably have problems with MLA documentation and run-on sentences, my fellow tutor Pat and I decided that certain authors, or certain books, are meant to be read in the winter.

The conversation started when we were discussing ways we’d used visual adaptations of poetry and novels in the classroom, and she mentioned a film of James Joyce’s “The Dead” she used to show to her high school students.  “We usually watched it right before Christmas break,” she said, “right after watching The Muppet Christmas Carol.  You can only watch it in the winter.  In fact, you should only read that story in the winter.”

Leo Tolstoy should be read in winter, too, especially Anna Karenina.  The Brontes seem to be winter writers, as well, maybe because their novels are full of the moors, gray and cold.  In any case, Lowood School in Jane Eyre must feel like December even in May.  Adventure stories by R. M. Ballantyne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Daniel Defoe, and H. Rider Haggard: you should begin those in high summer, late June or early July, when washing ashore and drying your clothes on a rock seems like an actual possibility.  Dickens was a little harder to place; really, some of his should span more than one season.  But George Eliot, for me, belongs in the spring, especially Middlemarch but even The Mill on the Floss.

For me, the best example of a seasonal author is Ray Bradbury.  You should read Ray Bradbury at the end of the summer, late August and early September, when the Sunday ads in the newspaper begin to feature school supplies and Macintosh apples appear in the grocery store.  When I lived in Cary, Illinois, this was when the sky remained overcast for weeks at a time and, around three o’clock, it smelled like the burning ends of the corn crop outside.  There is just no better time to read about the small midwestern towns in Bradbury’s short stories in novels — towns where dried leaves are always scratching down the sidewalks and some carnival is always on the horizon, not preparing to unfurl the tents but instead packing up, surrounded by sad, stale popcorn and ticket stubs.

What about you?  Do you only read Nathaniel Hawthorne in April?  Does Hemingway only appear on your nightstand in January?


6 thoughts on “reading ray in october

  1. See, I would place C. Bronte as a February/March writer–still winter, but bleak springs rather than the honest, bright cold of high winter.

    Thomas Hardy, on the other hand, is a November writer–it was November in his soul. Last night, when I asked my students about poems that had jumped out at them from their reading, one said “Neutral Tones” by Thomas Hardy. We read it, and it was the quintessence of Hardyism, of course. (Speaking of my class, we read that Billy Collins poem you talked about last night–and followed it up with Macleish’s “Ars Poetica” so they would know why I keep howling at them that “A poem should not mean but be.” They at least claim to understand poetry better than they used to)

    Now Shakespeare is a man for all seasons–non-dramatic verse in summer, tragedies in late October, romances at mid-winter, and comedies in spring.

    But what about Gaskell? This is the unanswerable question.

  2. Thomas Hardy IS very November. Although I could really read Hardy at any time of year because I love him so much. Whenever I want to feel good and depressed, I can always rely on Little Father Time. (Props on bringing him up during VSS, by the way.)

    I’m glad you used the Billy Collins poem! I love it so much.

    BTW, I don’t have your blog listed on my site because I notice that you often post secure entries. I thought you may want to remain a little more private. It’s not because I don’t love the Sophie!

  3. Also, are you coming to the P&P thing tonight? I was wondering because I realized there’s the Cherry reading afterwards that one kind of rampaged over, but I was thinking it might be possible to go to both and propitiate…

  4. I actually can’t go to the P&P, which makes me a bad person. I’ve had plans with a friend tonight for a while, and I can’t really bail on her. But this workshop tends to be popular, so I expect great numbers and crowds.

  5. Sis,
    Of course there is literature that is seasonal. When I was at App you could tell the change of season by production schedule. Heavy drama’s like “Night Mother” and Greek plays dominated the stage and then during spring there was always Neil Simon and Sam Shepard (not comedy but definitely summer/spring). As far as regular literature goes I actually go to Doyle as a stand by for winter. Murder mysteries seem to match an overcast sky and Sherlock Holme’s still has the best aha moments. The books I find most interesting as far as season though are “The Dark Tower Series” by Stephen King. It follows a very seasonal pattern in my mind starting with harsh summer through winter in “Wolves of Calla” to spring in the very frustrating final installment “The Dark Tower”. Just thought I’d throw my two cents in.

  6. I love Doyle! I actually have a few stories on CD that I used to listen to in the car when I would drive between Killeen and Houston. Danny actually was a little disappointed in the stories. He had read some weird rewritten versions as a boy that were a little more action-packed when, in fact, the actual stories involve a lot of Holmes sitting around musing with his pipe. But that’s what Holmes does! And that’s why he’s fabulous!

    Have you ever read any Wilkie Collins? If you like Holmes you might enjoy him. He wrote sensation fiction in the nineteenth century. I would check out The Moonstone first.

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