There are over 3 million books scattered across the numerous Georgetown University libraries. Lauinger Library itself possesses over 2 million volumes. Yet, for all these books, there is something still missing; while there are tomes of pre-modern French poetry and comparative political case studies, Lauinger contains few novels. Why is there such a shortage of literature on campus that most people actually enjoy reading?
It is not unreasonable to suggest that most students have a fairly positive relationship with reading. After all, they got into Georgetown. The large quantities of required reading in high school and college have certainly imparted a great deal of experience with this basic skill on us. Most of us can recall fond memories with books: curling up beside a fireplace with a copy of the latest Harry Potter, soaking up the sun while on a beach with a copy of a bestselling mystery or any number of similar recollections. Yet despite all of these happy memories, when was the last time you read a book not for a course or project, but entirely for fun? When was the last time you experienced a work of fiction so engaging that you couldn’t put it down?
Yes, Georgetown does offer, and at times requires, literature and humanities courses, but these classes only go so far. They take up a novel for its literary merits, focusing on the devices, structures and theoretical analyses of the literature. This is a wonderful and necessary perspective, but not the only one; good novels should also be enjoyed for simply being good novels. How often in a literature class does attention turn from the text to the story itself, from explanations of its lasting popularity to simply experiencing it oneself?
Over our four years at Georgetown, students spend nearly all their time learning to read in what I call the “research manner.” In the research manner, the objective of reading is to be able to quickly and efficiently skim books in order to pull out the thesis and key facts, and then be able to summarize the whole work in one or two concise, poignant paragraphs. This way of reading has many positive qualities, but it is not the only way to read a book. Though it may seem contrary to every lesson this institution of higher learning has tried to instill within us, reading does not always need to be part of a larger project. Sometimes, even students need to have the opportunity to read for pure and simple pleasure.
The superiority of the research manner over all other ways of reading serves as an example of a more general problem with intellectual life at Georgetown: the imbalances. It is not that the things we study, the skills we learn and the ways we study are bad; on the contrary, they are valuable experiences and tools to possess. But these academic ideals and goals are only good when they are moderated, tempered and placed into perspective with their opposites. Theory means nothing without policy and vice versa. Seemingly contradictory styles of teaching and learning can mutually reinforce each other and create a perfect middle ground.
There are significant merits to reading for simple enjoyment. Reading without the looming specter of grades and term papers is a healthy form of stress relief. Reading without looking for answers and facts teaches a different type of thinking, one that emphasizes the mental calculations and inquisitive pondering over the results themselves. Reading without note-taking and summarizing provides great appreciation of every written phrase and word. Reading for reading’s sake is unconscious learning: It is just as insightful as the research method, but so much more fun.
As spring blooms outside, now is the perfect time to rebalance the reading equilibrium and become reacquainted with a popular novel, an ageless classic or an airport fiction. Pick a novel or well-written biography that interests you, something that you wake up each morning wanting to read, not having to read. Read it slowly, in small portions — a chapter before bed, a couple pages before your friends arrive at O’Donovan Hall. Free up some time to read, even if it is only 15 minutes a day. Forgo that extra episode of passive distraction on Hulu and instead pick up a form of active entertainment that amusingly engages the mind. Choose to experience the other portion of your education. I promise, it will be some of the most enjoyable coursework you ever complete.
Michael Fischer is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be contacted at[email protected]. POSTSCRIPT appears every other Tuesday.
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