Trying to Balance Books

Otherwise known as my ongoing struggle to deal with required reading without sacrificing (or hating) reading for pleasure.

So, I hope by this point it should be obvious that I love to read. I always have, and I don’t really see that ever changing. But, if there’s one thing that could ever make me reconsider that stance, it’s required reading assignments for classes. I’ve touched on this topic before, and I talked about some of the books that I’ve had to read: 1984, Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare, The Scarlet Letter, etc. And, like I said, I loved some of those books.

But this isn’t really about liking or disliking an assigned reading. If it was, I’d be here all day railing against Paradise Lost and telling you how I utterly despise it, and what a complete waste of time I think reading it is.

I’ve heard people say not to bother reading books outside of class in college, or not to bring any of your (personal) books with you to your dorm room if you live on campus. I’m… not even going to start into what I think of either of those ideas.

Right now, I just had to finish up reading Book Two of Milton’s greatest atrocity. And we’ve only started it. We just finished up Doctor Faustus, and as soon as we complete PL, we’re moving straight into Frankenstein. With no class days in between. As soon as we finish Frankenstein? We start The Handmaiden’s Tale. Don’t get me wrong, the Prof. is giving us plenty of time with each book, but it really is one right after the first.

In the meantime, I’m also attempting to read two books out of class. Both of them are, essentially, write-ups of different case studies. The Lucifer Effect, by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, and Wayward Puritans, by Kai Erikson. Yes, I read books on psychology and sociology in my spare time. The point is, those aren’t exactly the easiest books to read. Not the hardest, certainly, but not the easiest either. And I know other people have read Paradise Lost. I know I can’t be the only one who reads a dozen or so lines, then looks back over it and wonders what the hell I just read.

Most people would suggest (rather sensibly, I suppose) to only read one book outside of class at a time. Either do that or don’t complain.

But really, I’m not complaining. This is really just sort of a meditation on how it can be done without being overwhelming, and while still getting the most out of every book.

Except Paradise Lost, because there’s nothing to take away from that book. Milton clearly had way too much free time on his hands. Obviously Pinterest hadn’t been invented yet.

Uh, right. Sorry.

Anyway, I think that it can be done. One thing I do is never switch directly from one book to the next. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a guaranteed way to forget everything you’ve just read in the first book. Put one book down, go do something else, then come back to the other book later.

Also, for required reading, read with a notebook nearby. I don’t like marking up books, so I keep evernote up and make notes and questions as I go. Actually, I do this no matter how many, if any, other books I’m reading. Also, I cannot stress enough how useful I find evernote.

Another thing I try to do is get required reading out of the way early. I don’t read ahead, necessarily, but I do try go get it done quickly. I’ve got English on Tu and TR. I like to have any reading assignments out of the way by TR night.

Finally, I try to remind myself that I DO love reading. I’m not going to be one of those people that doesn’t take my books with me because someone tells me that I won’t have time to read.

If you love to read, make time to do it. Between classes, in the morning, whenever. If you’re lucky to have a campus with a lot of great outdoor spots, make use of them, especially as cooler, awesome fall weather moves in.

Good lord I am so ready to be done with summer.

And if your school has a completely awesome library? Use it! (And can I just say for a minute just how fantastic of a library UTK has? Half of the 5th floor is dedicated to nothing but psychology related books)  Most libraries have areas for quiet study which are perfect for focusing on reading.

Lastly, if you love reading, then keep reading. Don’t let required reading be intimidating.

A Lesson in Grammar Humility

Some thoughts after working on this week’s French homework. Bear with me, this will eventually have a little something to do with writing. 

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m extremely picky when it comes to proper grammar. Yes, call me whatever type of name you want, it’s true, and it doesn’t really bother me. Also, understand that I live in East Tennessee. It’s… not always the friendliest place as far as proper grammar is concerned. I lose track of how many times a day I bite my tongue when I hear double negatives and the word “ain’t”. 

It hurt just to type that.

Now, I’m not someone who will go around pointing out things to complete strangers, because really, even I don’t want to be that person. Also, I have no problem with text speak, so long as I don’t see it in any kind of published, serious writing. I use it myself. Though not to the point of looking illiterate. Seriously? 2 for to? Dropping one letter..?

Uh, anyway.

The point of all of this is, I pride myself on having excellent grammar. My grandmother was an English major, whose parents were from New York, and she taught all of her children, and in turn, grandchildren, how to speak “properly”. 

I often wonder what she’d think if she could see how text speak has taken off in the last few years. She’d probably cry. 

But I’ve always been good at grammar. English has always been my best subject, even topping my major. My English score on my ACT was a 29. My reading was a 30. I never had any trouble with things that seemed to confuse my classmates, like active and passive voice. 

But hey, once you’ve done that in Latin, English seems like a breeze in comparison. 

But it was only a breeze because I had struggled and fought my way through it in Latin. And that brings me (Finally, I know. Hey, I said I had good grammar, I never said I was succinct.) to the point of of this post:

There is no better way to teach a grammar snob some humility than to put them into a foreign language course. 

Seriously. It was indirect objects/pronouns and partitive articles in French this week. When she assigned it, my first thought was an enthusiastic ‘no problem!’

Then, I actually sat down and looked at the worksheet and online lab. Oh. Dear. Lord. All of the sudden, I’m looking up

This book is now squarely  at the top of my hit list.

This book is now squarely at the top of my hit list.

things in French that I don’t even remember learning in English. And after a moment of thought, I realized I didn’t ever really learn them, per se,  It just wasn’t difficult for me, and I just picked up on them. Everyone with even a high school education should know pronouns.

Yes, I know they all don’t. 

But it really is pretty basic. That’s why I felt so absolutely ridiculous, and frustrated, having to look up things that, to me, should be so basic. I whined on my facebook that I felt like a 3-year-old, having to learn all of this. And to make things all the more frustrating, this isn’t my first foreign language class. I’ve already had a year of French in high school and college, and I’ve had two years of Latin

Latin v. French: I’ll let you decide. 

It was a serious wake up call, though. My grammar is great, so long as it’s in English. Put me into a foreign language class? I’ll do okay, but it’s certainly a bit humbling for someone who takes such pride in her abilities. 

People are never perfect, even at the things they’re really talented at. Writers can often be an interesting mix of haughty and humility when it comes to their craft.  If you think you’re good at something, great. Just remember, there are still things out there that can challenge you.

It’s frustrating, it’s disconcerting, and it’s humbling. 

But it’s also gratifying. Because there really is no feeling like that “Aha! Now I totally get how it works!” moment. 

À la vôtre!