Carrying On: I like big books and I cannot lie

January 30, 2014

Georgetown students read so much that we end up doing hardly any reading at all. Most classes at Georgetown pack a tremendous number of pages into their syllabi. And they should. Having a solid grasp on our subjects’ literature is vital to sucking all the marrow out of our studies. But all this academic reading gets in the way of cracking open books for pleasure. There’s a problem when our rickety dorm-furniture shelves only hold books found on our syllabi.

Before college, I was a voracious reader. I accompanied Nancy Drew on every single one of her mystery-solving adventures. Later, Eragon catapulted me into a world of dragons and Skybreaker plunged me into an alternate universe. In eighth grade, I grossed out friends as I graphically recounted the horrors of Fast Food Nation and The Jungle while they ate lunch. In high school, poetry transformed, from barely tolerable to refreshingly enjoyable.

And then came Georgetown. Slowly but surely, my first question upon seeing someone with an interesting looking book was no longer “What’s it about?” but instead, “What class is it for?”

It seemed obvious that coursework was the only kind of reading being done on campus. Even when it was 78 degrees and people lounged in bikinis on Healy Lawn, they were poring over thick volumes on Aristotelian virtue ethics or flipping through photocopied counterinsurgency printouts. We might mix a few G&Ts on the weekend to give ourselves a break, but when it comes to reading, it’s not a break that we need—it’s more reading.

As engaging as our classes are, all this academic reading makes us boring. Horribly, horribly boring. Thoughtful dialogue doesn’t need to end when classes get out—hell, I love waxing eloquently about heady issues so much that I dress up in a pantsuit on Thursday nights for Philodemic. But those elevated out-of-class conversations need to be more imaginative. And nothing feeds our imaginations, nothing injects a little whimsy into our lives or sharpens our minds more than reading for pleasure.  It’s horribly, horribly cheesy, but it rings true. The most interesting conversation I’ve had recently was about reimagining our regular lives as magical realist ones. I can thank my housemate, who was making her way through Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and who constantly ticks books off her personal reading list despite writing an honors thesis.

After slacking off from pleasure reading for most of freshman and sophomore year, it took a friend to remind me why I needed to make time for books outside of classes. In his Village A, I nosily leafed through the volumes on a shelf in his living room, suddenly realizing that all forty or so were checked out from Lau. There didn’t seem to be much of a pattern—lots of classics, some biographies, and war poems—so I assumed he must have been writing a thesis to warrant checking out so many books. But he wasn’t.

I later found out that he would spend his afternoons wandering around Lau, plucking interesting books off the shelves and checking every single one of them out. He read them when he felt like it, ignoring passing return dates and amassing hundreds of dollars in library fees. This friend took free reading to an absurd extreme—he was a second semester senior, after all—but he forced me to see Lau in a new light.

Though it’s generally good mental health advice to stay as far away from our Brutalist monster of a library as possible, the next time you find yourself there, go ahead and wander the shelves. Let a book catch your eye. Check it out.

If you don’t go to Lau on a regular basis, you can try your hand at my favorite drinking game, “big book, little book.” When you’re headed back from a party, instead of going straight to your dorm, corral all your friends into the library. The objective is simple: whoever can find the biggest book in Lau and bring it back to the second floor wins the round. You can repeat the game with other iterations: littlest book, raunchiest book, most ridiculously irrelevant book. While you’re stumbling through the Spanish poetry section (fifth floor, excellent for finding small books), you might just find something you want to read in your free time.

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