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The Lonely, Good Company of Books

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Eric Ward        

Professor Ahmad

English 101

20 April 2019

The Lonely, Good Company of Books

        Do people hold themselves to standards that are unattainable? What is the great trouble of someone who is so intelligent believing that they are not? Rodriguez has written many books and became a nationally known writer for his autobiography Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982). He holds a stance on of opposition for bilingualism and affirmative action his has led to a great deal of controversy for him in his career. He has pushed through this controversy and continued to write on social issues such as acculturation, education, and language in Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father (1992) and Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002). In his article “The Lonely, Good Company of Books,” Rodriguez revisits his childhood going over memories of growing up and the passion he has always held for reading. Although he has become very accomplished in his writing, he has always felt that he was a failure. When he was growing up, his parents saw reading as a chore. It simply wasn’t something that his family did for pleasure but of need. The way they were always questioning his reasons for reading instilled some seeds early on in his life. Rodriguez also has a twisted perception of the value of books and what it is that he should be gaining from reading these books. This is because the value his parents placed on education was not high. He also felt like there was some goal or feeling of satisfaction that could never quite reach. Over, and over again we will see Rodriguez say that he is not a good reader. Even after having read hundreds of books before leaving high school he just did not feel he was a good reader. All of these thing and more have led Rodriguez to believe that he just can’t attain what it is he is looking for in reading. Rodriguez blames himself for his own reading shortcomings but this is because his parents led him to question what it was he was trying to get out of reading.

        Early on for Rodriguez a conflict began. Rodriguez states “For both my parents, however, reading was something done out of necessity and as quickly as possible” (172). His parents did not value reading because they believed that in life you were to use your hands and not your brain. They were laborers so they couldn’t wrap their minds around manual labors not being of means of supporting oneself. He was constantly questioning himself being torn between what his parents were telling him and what he was seeing in school. Rodriguez says “It was soon apparent to me that reading was the classroom’s central activity.  Each course had its own book. And the information gathered from a book was unquestionable. READ TO LEARN, the sign on the wall advertised in December” (172). The conflicting seeds coming from home and school were planted early on and it caused him a great deal of confusion later on in life. His parents wanted him to not write in his books so that they could sell them later. The did not care much about what he did with the books as long as they still had materialistic value once he was done with them. They did not value reading, but school was telling him that reading was the only way to learn and learning was very important for him. Their view on books was that breading books was something that had to be done and gotten out of the way. They only read books because they had to, for reasons of learning how to something manually such as cooking, prayers, or putting something together. They did not read books for reasons of pleasure and this idea stayed with Rodriguez. This later lead him to feel that he could never get out of books what it was he was looking for.

        The confusion his parents instilled in Rodriguez when he was younger lead to more troubled thoughts for him, always wondering what the value of reading was. Rodriguez says “but at home I would hear my mother wondering, ‘What do you see in your books?’ ” (174) This caused him to question what it was he was looking for in books and he never could quite get enough. There were no tangible items he was getting out of his books. He was not learning how to do something nor a trade. His parents just could not understand what the purpose of his reading was if they could not physically see anything coming out of it. He also states, “I also had favorite writers. But often those writers I enjoyed the most I was least able to enjoy” (174). This is another statement that makes it very clear that he feels guilty for getting pleasure out of reading. He cannot help but feel suspicious, thinking to himself that this must be a bad thing. This is all because of the thoughts and ideas instilled by his parents. He cannot help these thoughts because our parents are people that we look up to. It is very hard not to value their opinion because they are the ones who are raising and supporting him. He loves his parents but they just didn’t get it and he cannot help these thoughts from coming in when he starts feeling good about reading. His parents gave him a negative outlook towards books. His thoughts were still clouded by these ideas as he goes throughout his schooling. Rodriguez was always looking for some unattainable value or satisfaction out of books. It seems he was looking for something tangible or some revolutionary thought or idea that would rocket him into a new dimension of thought so he could finally show his parents and get the appraisal that he has always been looking for deep down.

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