The book that is my Achilles heel: pre-reading thoughts on John Milton’s Paradise Lost

paradise lost cover image

As Bethany mentioned a while back, Paradise Lost was assigned during “independent learning week” in AP English our senior year.  Fr. Murphy had to go out of town, something to do with him taking over as principal at another Jesuit high school in the Bay Area.  I don’t remember what exactly I did during that week, but I’m pretty sure very little of it had much to do with prepping my group’s assigned chapter in Paradise Lost.  We had English the period before lunch every day, so for that week we essentially had “double lunch,” or just over one hundred minutes in the school day in a row to do whatever we wanted.  I imagine that it was awesome.  I also imagine that I wished Bethany hadn’t been stuck at home with the chicken pox during all this freedom.  Needless to say, I read the chapter we were assigned, and nothing else, even though we were supposed to read the whole damn book.  Ha!  I put that thing down when we were done and I was done with it, I thought, forever.  And then, of course, eighteen years passed, we got nostalgic for days gone by, and that nostalgia begat the AP English Challenge.

I started reading Paradise Lost again in mid-August, and stopped when we went on our road trip to Oregon because I was damned if I was going to read that thing while I was on vacation.  I got through the first couple of chapters, but it was like trying to slog through literary mud.  Granted, I was trying to read it at bedtime, which is when I do a lot of my reading, but it wasn’t working for this one.  I would read a page and look back and wonder what exactly I had read.  I’ve never been so completely befuddled by anything I’ve ever read in my entire adult life.  It was the way I felt back when I had to read basic science journal articles for upper division science classes during undergrad.  It’s like you’re reading, and you understand the words by themselves, but when you’re done you have no idea what you just read.  So I put it down, again.  Bethany started doing posts about it, and I vowed to try again.  I even bought the same edition Bethany is working off of.  I thought it would be easier (or I needed an excuse to buy a new book.  Whichever.).  And both copies are languishing on my ottoman.  Occasionally one of the cats knocks one or the other of them over.  And I pick them up, because a book on the floor all catawampus is practically a sin here.  But do I open them up and read them?  Heavens, no.  I have plans.  Lots of plans.  Every week while I’m working I think, “This is going to be the week where I take my laptop and my copy of Paradise Lost to a coffee shop and camp out and force myself to read and understand this nonsense.  It’ll be like school!  It’ll be fun.”  And every week I decide I need to do something else more.  Like anything else.  Like scrub the toilets.

But the reason why I decided to write my pre-reading notes now is not just because I need to keep coming up with new posts three days a week, though that is a factor.  The truth is, I’m stubborn.  My stubbornness generally presents as an unwillingness to give up on a task once it’s been officially assigned to me, and Paradise Lost has been officially assigned to me, by myself.  Maybe that’s tenacity.  Yes, tenacity.  I googled.  That sounds better than stubborn.  I’m tenacious.  And also stubborn.  I have a long weekend coming up and I’m hoping that this week I will finally make some headway in Milton’s masterwork.  I might not, but that’s okay.  Paradise Lost isn’t going anywhere.

This entry was posted in AP English - 18 Years Later, Fiction - general, John Milton, Poetry - Epic, Reviews by Jill. Bookmark the permalink.

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