Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.
I'd like to believe that I'm fairly intelligent. Certainly not brilliant, but more than capable of absorbing, retaining and putting to use the various avenues of information that come my way.
So I get the day's headlines from my MSN homepage rather than the black-and-white print of the Daily News. What can I say? Put anything in colored, vibrant fonts and you pretty much have my attention. Once you have it though, I learn a lot.
Oh, and I stay current with pop artists and legendary greats, alike, by flipping through an occasional issue of People. Guilty pleasure? Sure, but I also live in a world that is ruled by standards set by the entertainment and political industries and this keeps me abreast of changing cultures, moods, and gives me a "heads-up" about the world my kids are about to enter as adults.
I listen to, read about and - eventually write on - subjects that fall at both ends of the spectrum in today's headlines. When it comes to literature I like to read, well...that ranges from biographies on political figures to the latest chick-lit published in the CBA world to an occasional suspense drama. I'd like to say I'm well-read.
Just like I'd like to say I'm intelligent.
But I had an experience last summer that made me wonder...
I joined a few writer friends over a year ago in a book club adventure that we were *sure* would be an eye-opening experience for us. It was, just not in the way we expected.
As you probably know, Oprah's book picks concentrate on the great classics. Last summer she chose three of William Faulkner's works for the months of June - August. These were her words: Dear Reader, I've always believed that you cannot call yourself a real reader unless you have read some of Faulkener.
She went on to say that "his brilliance makes you feel more brilliant." Wow. What high commendation...
Wonderful, we thought. It just so happened that all four of us had managed to escape all of our collective literature classes without having ever cracked open a Faulkner book. So it was with great anticipation that Nathan and I made the trek to the book department at Wal-Mart and purchased the three-book collection. (Note: thank goodness we purchased it here for a mere $19.97 - you'll understand why later)
Back home, I could hardly wait to tear away the crunchy celophane wrapping and then lovingly finger the three-volume set. I love the feel of new books.
As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August.
Three masterpieces just waiting for my reading pleasure. And to top that, not only would I be reading great classics, but I would absorb so much literary knowledge from one of the great literary minds of the turn of the century.
Right? You'd certainly think so. Hope so...After all, Oprah said...
I began to read As I Lay Dying that very afternoon. After one hour of solid reading it was clear I was in big trouble. I'd been prepared for the challenge - reading the masterpieces are always a bit challenging. They inspire you, provoke you, nudge you into a new and higher realm of thinking and reasoning. But this book just puzzled me. Not only could I not keep up with which character was doing what and when (by the way, no publisher would allow this type of writing to sit for ten minutes on their desk today), but I also found myself horribly depressed by the subject matter.
In a nutshell, this book is Faulkener's harrowing account of a family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. The book opens with Cash, one of the several sons, constructing the casket that would house their mother's dead body.
After she died, of course. For the time being, the sick and ailing Addie sat in a window, scarcely two feet from where Cash worked, watching as her son prepared for her demise.
I continued to read, but I have to admit, I was no longer sure about this book I'd been so excited about. Still, I read on. I mean, how could I admit to my other writing friends that ...I didn't get Faulkener? Wouldn't that be a blatant admission of ignorance? Or, at the very least, an indication that maybe I was a bit spoiled to easier reads?
I finally confessed. I couldn't stand it any longer. I either just don't "get" this classic, my email admitted it all, or maybe I'm just a dunce.
I was flooded with relief as the emails began to drift back to me. No one else got Faulkener either. This made me sigh in relief. And really made me think about brilliance and about each one's definition of that term. As one of my writing friends said, "Don't you just have to wonder if maybe the people who say this is brilliant don't really get it either? LOL It's like one person said it was brilliant so we all have to agree."
Oprah had told us Faulkener was brilliant. And I don't argue that he was for his time and his place in the world. But I learned an important lesson on that summer afternoon.
Don't set your intelligence level according to what Oprah claims is the norm.
Faulkener himself said this: "Read, read, read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window."
Now that, folks...is brilliance!