Sunday, September 9, 2018

Penetrating the Heart of Darkness

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is The Book You Didn’t Want to Read and Ended Up Loving.

This was kind of difficult for me to answer, because most of the books that spring to mind when I cast back and try to recall which I didn't want to read are the ones I ended up hating. If I ended up loving them, I kind of forget that initial pain. Like childbirth.

But I finally settled on HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad, which I had to read for AP English senior year of high school. The edition above is the one I read - and still have.

I know a lot of you mentioned this book when I talked about THE DEERSLAYER as my most loathed book I had to read. And I get it why. I really do. It's a super slow story, which is interesting because at 152 pages, it's really a novella and not all that long.

I'll confess I did not love the story when I read it. I had the same reaction many of you do, that it was boring and impenetrable. I'm pretty sure I read/finished reading it on an airplane, which helped because this was back in the bad old days when we didn't have eReaders with thousands of alternative reads at our finger tips. The book(s) you brought on the plane were the ones you got to read. It was either that or stare out the window at the landscape (I did a lot of that) or talk to your seat companions (no no no).

I remember all of this, even though it was a long time ago, because I was on a series of flights with my mom, visiting various colleges that I'd applied to. (I only applied to three, so it was pretty easy.) One of them was Northwestern, which my first love and HS boyfriend, Kev - who was a year ahead of me - was attending. All of this stands out vividly in my mind, not only because of the love/lust tizzy that consumed me at the prospect of seeing Kev after being separated when he went off to college, but - and this says a lot about my loves and lusts - because of the Northwestern Library.

See, this trip occurred during fall semester of my senior year and I was taking a pretty heavy courseload, including three AP (Advanced Placement) classes. To keep up, I had to do homework on the trip, which meant finishing reading (or reading entirely) HEART OF DARKNESS and writing a paper on it to turn in when I got back. So, I went to the Northwestern Library while Kev was at class to do my research for the paper.

And, people!

Oh. My. God.

I'll never forget the thrill of finding the shelves and shelves of literary criticism on this story. This was pre-internet, and while my high school library was good, it simply couldn't compare to the breadth and depth of knowledge at the library of a major university. Saying it was intellectually orgasmic would not be going too far.

Researching that paper illuminated the story for me in thousands of ways. I understood the allegories and how all that boredom and impenetrability MEANT SOMETHING. I think I'll always love HEART OF DARKNESS for the way it opened new worlds of understanding storytelling for me.

I also got an A+ on that paper.


  1. I will confess I read Heart of Darkness long after I saw Apocalypse Now (multiple times) , so for me it was an interesting read, comparing the movie to the book. It is funny to find out what kind of books were/are required reading in the US compared to the Dutch reading lists.

  2. I keep warning the AP kids that while this is the shortest book on the list, it's one of the hardest to read. I forgot to tell them about the lit crit that we have. I see I have something new to talk to them about!

    1. That's such a good thing to warn them about! And that's great. This is for sure one that's so much more meaningful once you understand you can't read it like a regular story.

  3. I remember that trip very well and very fondly. And, yeah, having access to that library gave me a real feeling of power, like all of the world's knowledge was there for the taking if you just ask the questions. Then, as now with the interwebs, I squander that power shamefully, as most of my questions involve who was in what movie and are they still alive.

    1. Ah, youth - eh? :*
      Oh, yes - "power" is so much the right word. Sure we squander the power of our tricorders, but think of how many family arguments stop before they begin because of IMDB!