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. 



Opinion: High School Books After Graduation

Last of the carry over’s from the old blog. Originally posted on October 23rd, 2013.

One of these I adored; one of these I hated. The third is Shakespeare. What more am I supposed to say about that?

       I had a really excellent English teacher for both Freshman and Senior English. She was great. Sophomore English was great, too. Junior year… Well, let’s not go there.

       However, even they couldn’t make some of the books we had to read any better. Every year, there was at least one book that I absolutely could. Not. Stand. Freshman year it was Animal Farm and Romeo and Juliet. Sophomore year it was Fahrenheit 451. Junior year? Well, I hated most of that year in general, since I’m not particularly fond of American Lit., but The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby really stood out. Senior year it was Hamlet, The Canterbury Tales and the ever charming, 1984.

       Yeah, I had to read both Animal Farm and 1984. Same teacher, different years.

       Don’t get me wrong; I read a lot of things in high school that I loved then and still love now. To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, The Fall of the House of Usher (not a novel, but I love that story) and of course, probably my favorite from high school, Wuthering Heights. 

       But not every character can be Heathcliff. Not every writer is Poe. Case in point? 1984.

       I hated that book in high school. It squicked me out. Room 101? No thanks. And good God, I couldn’t stand Julia. Maybe the audience wasn’t supposed to like her. Maybe we weren’t suppose to like Winston. Well, Mr. Orwell, mission accomplished.  I had to write an essay on that book. (We wrote essays on everything we read in that class.) The subject was, irony, if I remember correctly.

       The irony now is that, looking back, I’m really glad I had to read that book. It’s still not a favorite. I won’t be adding it to my physical book shelf anytime soon, but I do have a copy on my kindle. I understand why most high school students have to read it. I understand why it’s still relevant, even now.

       Maybe even more so, now. Don’t believe me? Look at the language in the book. It’s dubbed “Newspeak”.

       Now go and look at the average 12-13 year old’s facebook status and see which of the two makes more sense. My money’s on the former. At least it seems coherent.

       And as a Psych. student with an interest in Social Psychology, the book kind of fascinates me in some macabre way. The “two minutes hate” and the way Winston finds himself joining in? Perfect example of mob mentality.

       Another one that I’m slowly developing an appreciation for is The Great Gatsby. It’ll never be one of my favorites, (though how gorgeous is the new movie version?) but I can at least stomach it now. Yes, Daisy is still whiny, Tom is still an ass, and Jordan is still an icy you-know-what. Tom, at least, seems like he was meant to be pretty much irredeemable from the start, but Daisy and Jordan? I can kind of understand where they were coming from now. Still don’t like them, but I don’t hate them anymore either.

       Maybe something like 1984 should be left for college students? Animal Farm, too. Are most high school kids going to get the metaphor there? Stalin and Lenin pigs? Hell, does the average high school student know who Lenin and Stalin are? And I doubt most high school kids understand the idea of “Ingsoc”.

       Most students don’t really know how to appreciate novels like that in high school. Some do, sure, but most will just slog through it because they’ve got a paper to write, or an exam to take. Though I’ve done that in college too.

       I’m looking at you, Don Quixote and The Aeneid.

       But at least most college students have heard of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. Most of them have some idea of what Communism and Socialism are.

        Still, I’m grateful for having read what I did in high school. It’s served me well in college.

        Except for The Scarlet Letter. Seriously, Hawthorne? Seriously?


       Mayuuya (Chelsea)