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?