There is a shelf in my bookcase reserved for short story collections. It’s the most frequented section of my library, containing glimpses into thought-provoking words that end too soon. To me, short stories are mini portfolios of a writer’s work, charting the changes undergone over a period of time. In each story, the writer’s mind travels somewhere else. The entire collection, therefore, reveals these changes to the reader.
But I’ve recently discovered my coveted shelf of short stories not only reveals changes undergone by the writer–it also contains changes of my own.
I graduated high school two years ago, and since then, I’ve unexpectedly comes across three stories I read in my twelfth grade English class: “The Swimmer” by John Cheever, “The Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff, and “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri. These stories were first assigned in a heavy, unwelcoming anthology and did not leave much of an impact on my 18-year-old self. They were assignments; I had to read them. But now that I’m in college, I’ve changed and so has my reading taste. I rediscovered Cheever, Wolff and Lahiri of my own accord, forgetting that we had ever crossed paths.
With the first sentence of each of the three stories, I was confronted with a former self. I thought about how I used to spend my days, the people I spent them with, the things I wasted my time worrying about. Like a scent from childhood or song from adolescence, my recognition of the stories’ previous occurrence came with nostalgia. When I reread the stories, I saw things beyond the symbolism and rhetorical devices I was taught to look for in high school. Instead, I saw how our dreams fill reality with what we wish was there in “Interpreter of Maladies”, a portrait of three very different men and their moral shortcomings in “Hunters in the Snow”, and the deterioration in sanity that comes with loss and hardship in “The Swimmer.” I also saw my progress, both as a reader and as a person.
This, I’ve realized, is how literature truly works: it’s a mirror to the mind. When entering the consciousness of another, it’s impossible to not consider your own consciousness in relation. The text draws out your own thoughts and makes you react, and when you revisit a text, the image seen in the mirror–composed of these thoughts and reactions–changes. Returning to the three stories, I saw myself as a more thoughtful reader, proof that time had passed and that I had grown during its passing. It was exciting to notice this, and exciting to think of how time’s passing this very second, bringing me closer to the day I read these words again and feel the joy in realizing how far I’ve come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Vestuto is an English major at Stony Brook University and the Features Editor at The Stony Brook Press. I aspire to work for The New Yorker one day and greatly admire the writing of Joan Didion. When I’m not writing, I’m busy spending time with my menagerie of three dogs and two cats.
Follow Jessica on Twitter and get to know her!