During hectic daily activities as a reporter covering legal issues at the Corruption Eradication Commission, my former best office mate Erwida Maulia invites me to join her weekend gateway by visiting Kinokuniya bookstore on an uncertain weekend I forget the date is.
I have no intention of buying books at the time given my super busy daily life as a journalist. But I can’t help admitting myself that I arrive at an artificial paradise once I am inside the bookstore. Looking at the literature section brings my memory back to the years when I was a student of the English department at the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. I remember almost all the titles, the novelists, but I soon realize that I have yet to read most of the titles. If so, I must have done that for the sake of getting good grades.
After a few moments of title selections, I decide to give a try for Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. I know the title from my most favorite lecturer, Pak Dayat. I always admire Wilde’s drama but have yet to read this (if I’m not mistaken) only novel he has written. And you know what? This title is the first one that kicks off my pure, new and improved adventure not only with the Victorian literature but also with the literature in a large extent.
The book is the first English novel that sets out my journey as an outsider, a refreshed likeness from a literature great fan. The novel is the first that I completely enjoy, the one that later brings me to so many titles during the span of six years of the so-called reading trip. Needless to say about the book. It’s so marvelous. I can recall the gothic feeling each time I remember about the novel. I really wish Wilde writes more books than drama but he does the other way around.
In between tight working schedules, I always try to find time to read books. I can’t remember exactly which books that I read after ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. After the awesome first reading experience, I quickly remember the name John Steinbeck. I don’t have any ideas why I didn’t read any of his books when I was at the college. Again, thanks to Pak Dayat, what I firstly remember about Steinbeck is ‘Of Mice and Men.’ Pak Dayat once tells to the class how powerful the novel is and I am left being so curious. However, it’s not quite easy to find the book.
Again, me and Wida visits the store and this time around I come with one name in my head: John Steinbeck. I am quite surprised to have found some of his books in the store. Since I haven’t seen ‘Of Mice and Men’, I grab ‘East of Eden’ instead. Prior to the visit, I browse about the book and enough to say, the title itself makes me peculiar. The more I read its synopsis I get even more curious. The core of the story lies on two brothers with opposite characteristics. Steinbeck takes the essence of the book from Adam’s sons whose tragic story becomes the first ever murder in the world.
The novel is quite expensive but it is so much worth it. It takes less than a month to complete reading the book and I totally loooove it! It is so surprising to read the novel saga which is full of wisdom, family issues and human flaws as Steinbeck is greatly associated with social and labor issues. ‘East of Eden’ pulls me deeper into this reading journey. So far, I have read seven of Steinbeck’s novels and will definitely read his remaining books later on.
I finally read ‘Of Mice and Men’ and I can’t agree more with Pak Dayat’s statement on the power of the book. It remains my most beloved book until now. So thin yet so mind-blowing. It tears my heart apart.
In between the so-called Steinbeck’s literary experience, I taste Asian culture through Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai with the most favorite one is Amitav Ghosh. ‘Life of Pi’ teaches me a bit about philosophy. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ tells me that a teenager’s naughty side can instead be the truest voice ever. The novel represents modern generation that is so lost, so divided between personal choice and future consideration.
After feeling enough with post-modern themes, Asian culture, I don’t know what goes through my mind that I return to the Victorian novels. ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ is the second Victorian novel that brings me back to the vintage era. It is less fantastic compared to ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ yet ‘Far from Madding Crowd’ is more than enough to eventually guide me to where my real, final reading taste is, Victorian literature, despite the fact that John Steinbeck remains my most beloved author. I really love his boldness in writing, straight to the point. So far, no authors can surpass the way he emotionally kills readers through ‘Of Mice and Men’. All in all, my general preference is Victorian novels.
After I have read Hardy’s six novels, I move on to George Eliot, now Elizabeth Gaskell. I don’t really care about moral values or social issues as seen in the Victorian novels actually. What makes me glued to the books written in this era is as simple as its language. Once I open the Victorian novels I feel like I see an abundant, very beautiful landscape in front of my very eyes. I can write down authors’ quotes or beautiful phrases. The Victorian novels are indeed such an art.
Given my experiences as a journalist, I would like to dig deeper into the Victorian books then put them down into pieces of interesting writings that won’t merely discuss on the content or characterizations of the books as the ones you may always find in school textbooks. That’s so boring. I know that. Rather, I’d love to play with some dynamic topics, like comparing Hardy and Eliot’s writing type. Also, I’d love to take out several significant characters from the Victorian authors as topic of discussions. I will be so happy to make the Victorian novels as everlasting topics, not too old to be talked about when you meet friends. The books can be in sync with modern era, though.
It’s been three years since I have started out my second reading trip with the Victorian literature. Firstly, I kick it off as a reader, no longer seeking good grades, but simply as pleasure activity. Now, I start thinking to learn making creative stories from all the Victorian novels that I have digested with the help of relatively short experiences as a journalist because reading alone can be worthless if I don’t share it with others. I have done this since 2011 but this time around I want to be more elastic without leaving the Victorian novels’ serious issues.
From obligatory to literary satisfaction now comes to the time when I try to get committed to blend the two. This mission is surprisingly giving me so much fun!