‘These Are Books We Have to Read’

After Monday’s class when we had to pick out a quote from our reading that stuck out to us, I remembered a quote from earlier in the novel that I kept thinking about: “To be an American is to be a believer!  But y’all don’t even understand what you believe in.”  This was the quote that the man on the bus said before he was kicked out into the snow.  Originally, this quote stuck out to me, but going back through the quotes I highlighted, I feel as though I have a better understanding of it.  I typed this quote into google to see if there was any commentary on it and came across this response to LaValle’s novel on NPR.

Dolen Perkins Valdez responds to Victor LaValle’s Big Machine with a complete sense of awe, describing the way it completely changed her life and her day-to-day experiences.  I realized the same quote that stuck out to me also stuck out to Valdez and chose to read what she had to say about Big Machine (as she is an author herself, so she must know what she’s talking about.  Right?)  Valdez even goes as far as describing this as a novel that people “must” read.  Normally, when assigned a book for class that I actually MUST read, it takes away a small amount of enjoyment and becomes more of a work assignment than a pleasurable experience.  Originally when starting this book I thought it seemed extremely odd.  I even described it as seeming like a “fever dream.”  I remember discussing in one of our groups in class if we chose to read this on our own without the assignment if we would’ve put it down and given up on reading it.  To be completely honest, I said I would have put it down and given up on it.  However, now I am extremely glad now that I did not have that option.  I definitely learned something about myself from reading this novel: that I don’t like to be uncomfortable when reading, in the sense that I may not know or understand what is happening the whole time.  This could easily be from the fact that I can be slightly controlling or the fact that when it comes to challenging literature, I can normally figure it out through class discussion.  I felt like when it came to Big Machine I was missing an essential part of the book.  And I was missing what seems to be the most important thing in this novel: belief.  I feel very differently about Big Machine after giving further thought to the novel.  I agree with Valdez that this is a must-read book after reading what she had to say about it.

Going back to the quote by the man on the bus had me thinking about an essential way to live that our professor, Beth McCoy often states and from how I’ve known her, embodies in her own life; that is to “judge less, think more.”  I feel as though this novel centers greatly around belief and what that means for characters who have seen trauma.  I realized I was learning an essential message about this book from my experience with the act of reading the book itself.  Valdez discusses LaValle’s “explorations of faith and skepticism.”  She comes to the conclusion that “he suggests that we must believe in something, but he also insists that unquestioning faith is dangerous, too.”  This is exactly how I felt about reading the book.  I wanted desperately to put my faith in this book, hoping that everything would come together and I’d get this ‘big picture’ that I envisioned.  I wanted this book to enlighten me and found myself getting frustrated when the novel did not give me the epiphany I demanded from it early on.  I put my unquestioning faith into this book and now realize that my lack of questioning was covering the enlightenment I had been searching for all along.

When I sat down and started to question everything or why I wasn’t getting it, the big thing or the ah-ha moment, I realized that was the moment; learning how to believe and put faith in something.  As someone who has never found faith in religion or spiritual systems, belief itself wasn’t exactly something that came easy to me.  I too often think if there is no proof or the ah-ha moment isn’t jumping out to me exactly, then it must not exist.  I have often felt this way about religion and spirituality for as long as I can remember.  Although this is certainly not an ‘I found faith in God’ post, I feel as though I did learn something about the act of believing in general.  It must be a delicate balance of doubt and trust.  This allowed me to question the quote from the man on the bus again: Is there a problem in our country that stems from belief?  Do we believe things too easily or question everything too much to the point of danger?  Personally, I feel as though this has awakened me to my belief in myself and that I can do good by others.  I now realize that I truly believe that I can “judge less and think more,” as Big Machine certainly shows, more so than many other stories I’ve read, that everyone truly does have a back story that I know nothing about.

I would now greatly consider Big Machine as a must-read.  The odd nature of the storyline opened my eyes and allowed me to make connections to concepts that I have learned throughout my life and throughout other literature.  Big Machine has helped me reconcile with the idea that belief does not make one week, despite the fact that that belief may later fail you.  One can choose to rather open their mind and ask themselves the question: What is this here to teach me?

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