Today my new boss asked me why we are made to read the really depressing stories as part of our education–Steinbeck, Orwell, Melville, Hemingway.

Last night I was reading Melville for homework–why else would I read him? I had to read Moby Dick for a class and it turned me off Melville. I swear they shouldn’t start students with Moby Dick. It feels impossible.

But Bartleby, the Scrivener–now that’s something different. I loved it. I came across this passage:

So true it is, and so terrible too, that up to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections; but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not. They err who would assert that invariably this is owing to the inherent selfishness of the human heart. It rather proceeds from a certain hopelessness of remedying excessive and organic ill. To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannot lead to effectual succor, common sense bids the soul be rid of it.

Up to that point, I’d been feeling sort of indifferent to the story–I wasn’t sure, exactly, what I was going to get out of it. But then I read that passage, and it was a turning point for me.I found myself nodding my head emphatically as I read, and something in my chest said YES YES YES.

I understand my own self better now.