Last night, I attended the talk, “Go, dog. Go! A Map of the Beautiful” which was given by Professor Stephen Booth. Not only had I been interested in it on my own, but it counted as extra credit for my Intro to Poetry class with Professor Wareh, who set up the talk. For my class, I had to write a review of the talk and how it affected me as a whole, so I decided to share it with you guys! Hope you enjoy and find the time to come to other events hosted by the Humanities office!
On Thursday, February 27th, I attended the talk “Go, dog. Go! A Map of the Beautiful”, which was given by Professor Stephen Booth. Professor Booth is a man very familiar with doing close readings of pieces of literature, and has published numerous pieces of his own throughout his lifetime, most of them centering on the work of Shakespeare. This time, though, Booth decided to do a close reading of the book Go, dog. Go! by Philip D. Eastman. The book is originally intended for children, but Booth taught his audience to view it in a different perspective. He noted before he began his talk that we should not be fooled, and that most literature “seems how it is”. In other words, Go, dog. Go! would be just as straightforward of a children’s book as we had initially thought it was, no matter how much we tried to complicate and interpret it after his talk.
The first thing that Booth pointed out was that just by reading the title of the book, our minds were already beginning to work and move. “‘Go, dog’ is a palindrome”, he stated simply, and I immediately felt silly for not having had noticed it previously. The simple fact is that our minds are subconsciously working all the time. As readers, our interest would have immediately been sparked just by subconsciously making note of the palindrome within the title of the book. Cool! The talk was already moving smoothly.
As we began to delve further into the reading, Professor Booth began to point out the things that our minds might have been enamored with back when we were four years old and reading the book for the first time with our parents. “Throughout the book there is simultaneous likeness and difference”, he stated, “and this is what many people find ‘beautiful’”. This proved to be true. There were dogs above water contrasted with dogs below water, big dogs next to little dogs, et cetera, et cetera. Never before had I really noticed that contrast was one of the most beautiful things that readers are provided with within literature, but of course, once Booth pointed it out, I became all but too aware of it. It suddenly became quite clear why people love things like romantic comedies, which pair the seriousness of a relationship and love, with laughter and silliness. I learned something new, once again.
As Booth continued to do a close reading of the book, I continued to be more surprised at the things that I had missed as a four year old. For example, I had never been made aware of the numerous ‘themes’ and or ‘motifs’ that existed throughout the book. Wheels, houses, water, and toys: There were all examples of things that continued to re-appear within the story, but very subtly. How had I not noticed before? Booth also pointed out that people who have read the book in their childhood, when asked as adults what the story was about, usually remember the scenes in which two dogs interact. The dogs greet each other with “Hello”, one dog asks, “Do you like my hat?”, the other replies, “I do not”, and they part from one another with “Goodbye”. Booth noted that the reason most of us remember these parts of the book most vividly, is because they are the only parts of the story that create some type of ‘plotline’, whilst the rest of the book is random and silly. How interesting!
In total, Booth read the same old story that we had heard numerous times, but this time showed us the hidden gems within its pages. Although seemingly obvious pieces of information, many members of his audience had never made note of such details before, and Booth was constantly greeted with warm laughter when a pun or camouflaged message was revealed. I, for one, greatly enjoyed Booth’s talk. As an English major, ‘close readings’ are something that I will be doing a lot, and it was fun to see that they are not always tedious, but can also be fun.
I think the part of Booth’s talk that really stuck with me the most was one of the things he said in the very beginning. Just as he was about to take a sip of water because he was “parched”, Booth paused and made one of his strongest statements of the talk. He said, “What we value in art is the experience of the work, not the things they told you to look for in high school.” This sentence has been repeating in my mind since the talk, and I believe that it is wholeheartedly true. Yes, sometimes we are required to look for the deeper meaning in pieces of art, but most of the time, it is the experience of the art that really changes us as people. I consider life to be art, and I think that this same sentence applies. It is the experience that counts, so we must find ways to go out and experience all that we can, while we can.
All in all, Booth gave a great speech and I want to thank Professor Wareh for taking the time to put the entire talk together. :-) (Thanks!) I’ll be sure to attend more talks hosted by Humanities in the future.