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.

Oddest Book List Ever

Okay, so this post isn’t really about writing per say, but it is about books. More specifically, that one of my classes has issue the strangest book list I’ve ever encountered.

It’s been a while since I’ve had any type of Literature class in college, but I have to have an Intensive Writing Course now that Iv’e finally made the switch to the University of Tennessee (Finally!), and the one I chose is “Themes in Literature.”

When I went to look at the book list for the course, I was quite ecstatic to discover that there’s no actual textbook. There’s another couple of hundred that doesn’t have to be spent. Seriously. Textbooks? They’re insane! My French II textbook is going to be ridiculous!

…Uh, sorry.

Anyway… There’s no textbook for the Lit. course, but there are six books that we have to have. They’re all what I guess you could call “classics” (a generous title for a couple, IMO), and I assume they’re supposed to have some kind of overarching theme between all of them.

But if that’s true, then for the absolute life of me, I can not find it.

  • Paradise Lost, by John Milton

While I’m not really a fan of the book/poem/whateveryouwanttocallit, (I’ve read it for World Lit. before) I have no qualms considering it a classic. There are some books that most people will read in college, and this is one of them. faust image

  • Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe 

I admit that I don’t exactly know much about this book. I’ve never actually read it. But I do know the gist of the story. And I can see how the good vs. evil theme of the book ties it in with Paradise Lost, and can understand the theme between the two. I’m actually kind of looking forward to this one. 

  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

This one is a classic. If I was asked to name 5 classic novels, this would probably come to me pretty quickly. (Along with, probably, Dracula, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Probably) But… I don’t really see how it ties in with the first two. Man playing God, maybe? 

  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson

To be honest, I didn’t recognize the title of this book when I first read it. Though research tells me that it’s clearly sci-fi and/or cyberpunk, with computer hacking and cyberspace. I… really don’t get how it ties in with the others. handmaiden image

  • The Handmaiden’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

This novel, I know simply by reputation. A disturbing look into the future, where an entire class of women has been reduced to, essentially sex slaves, indoctrinated, and used for nothing more than the purpose of producing children. While I don’t see how it fits with the first four, save for the sci-fi elements it shares with Neuromancer, I can certainly see how it’s right in line with the last.

  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury 

451 imageAnyone who knows me knows that I despise this book. I don’t like this book, because it scares me. It scares me, because I think that, in feverish moments, this book could be dangerously possible. People have burned books before; people still burn books! How many Harry Potter books have been destroyed because they “promote witchcraft” for children? I don’t like this book because, like 1984, I see it as disturbingly possible. I can see how the dystopian and sci-fi elements tie in with The Handmaiden’s Tale, but Doctor Faustus? Sorry, I just don’t see it. 

Anyone have any ideas? Opinions? What the hell do these books have in common? 

Besides all being on the same class list, thanks. 

Also, I inspired myself while writing this. In a couple of days, I think I’ll do a post with my list of (classic) books that I think people should have read by the time they finish college.