I was up on the roof with some friends, and friends of friends, and conversation turned to Jane Eyre. Actually, I turned the conversation to Jane Eyre, which I've been trying to read, along with my book club, for the last two months.
Me: (casually) "So, have y'all read Jane Eyre?"
Everyone: (including some really masculine guys with deep voices and ESPN subscriptions): Resounding yes.
Girl named Amanda: "I've read it three times; it's my favorite book of all time!"
Crap. You can't throw a stone without hitting someone whose favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre. I mean, the book must rival the Holy Bible in terms of copies sold. But my book club (which, in all fairness, only consists of three people, including me) hasn't been able to get hooked. Why?
Me: "Yeah, well, I'm having trouble getting into it, because, you know, it's pretty slow, I mean the story doesn't start until page 100 or so, with Mr. Rochester's horse slipping on the ice scene" (murmurs from the crowd; one of the ESPN subscribers stares at me, looks away, and shakes his head sadly; I start to backpedal fast) - "I mean, what's wrong with me? This is obviously a great book, a seminal book, and I can't get into it. I think it might be because I already know the story? You know, I've seen a couple of movie and made-for-TV adaptations, and the story is such a big part of our culture, that maybe I just had expectations that were way too high..."
Everyone: (exchanging meaningful glances with each which clearly question my ability to participate in Western Civilization) "Jane Eyre is a great book... but it's not for everyone..." (like, not for dumbasses)
Me: "Yeah, because I read a lot of genre fiction, so I like stories that are fast paced." (This point is undermined by my participation in a previous discussion about Philip Roth. Damn!)
Amanda: "Well, you should read it in conjuction with The Wide Sargasso Sea, which is the story of the crazy lady in the attic."
God, a Jane Eyre spin off? I struggle to keep my mounting alarm off my face. Please, please don't let my book club find out about this...
Amanda: (beginning to truly feel sorry for me)"And I read Jane Eyre when I was on this whole women's studies kick..."
Yeah, the Brontes were real feminists for their time. "Their time" being a really long time ago. I'm a feminist, I love feminists, I love feminist books (most of them), but I want to read something more contemporary. Maybe if Jane Eyre was embroiled in a fight against her new evil and sexist health insurance company, which charges a minimum of $40.00 for birth control, and only five bucks for generic Viagra...now there's something I can really relate to. There's some feminism I can really get behind.
Me: "Yeah, I can see that, totally. It's just hard for me to read. And I really want to read it. The other night, I read thirty pages, and got this wonderful sense of accomplishment - I felt really fulfilled, in a literary way - like how you might feel after running a marathon, or scoring a goal" (my attempt at sports analogies and "literary stamina" go ignored), "but I still don't feel a strong urge to pick it back up."
Later, back in the apartment with my boyfriend, I can't let it go.
Boyfriend: "The problem is that you're reading it wrong. You can't just read it before bed, or on your lunch break, or when you have free time. You need to make a commitment. You need to read at least a hundred pages at a clip. You need to let yourself get lost in Jane Eyre's world."
My boyfriend is full of surprising and unacknowledged bursts of wisdom. I'm speechless.
But not for long.
Me: "Um, you're right. You're right. But look" (I can't stop myself, even though my arguments are getting thinner and thinner), "I think the real problem is that the two main characters are unattractive, and the narrator does nothing to hide that, and I'm a shallow 21st century bitch. I mean, look at this cover! Who wants to read about this girl?" (I am shaking the book precariously close to his calm and lovely face. Really, couldn't the Jane Eyre art department take a clue from Chick Lit?)
Boyfriend: (Shrugs). "I don't think she's unattractive. By the end, I thought she was attractive."
Great. I'm mildly disturbed by my boyfriend's taste in women, but I soldier on:
Me: "Maybe my problem with Jane Eyre is that I credit it with spawning the romance genre, and you know that I've been irrevocably traumatized by reading too many of my grandmother's romance novels at a young and tender and impressionable age..." (this is true, my Middle School Dating Strategies were formulated soley based on cowboy romances)
Boyfriend: "I don't think you can credit Jane Eyre with creating the whole romance genre. There were a lot of other authors who contributed..." (begins to list authors...I sigh loudly in defeat)
I'm all out of arguments. I must embrace Jane Eyre or alienate myself from all of my friends, to say nothing of Western Culture. All at once, I feel a surge of sympathy for Tall Katie, a friend I had years ago who claimed to dislike Catch 22. Obviously, we knew she was just lying to get attention. How is it possible to feel anything but intense love and admiration for Catch 22?!
This is a call to arms. All who are struggling through Jane Eyre unite! All who have lied about having read this book, and having loved it, tell your story as an anonymous comment! I know I'm not alone! I can't be the only one.
In the meantime, I will keep on trying. Our book club has set a deadline of July 15th: Jane Eyre or bust.