Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Book Lover to Book Utilitarian: The Shameful Descent

Only as an English major is reading 120 pages of a book a "relief" from your workload, what with twenty paged finals. This semester, however, even that isn't much of a vacation when five of your classes assign the same amount of reading. (Disclosure: I love my major and do not believe my teachers are asking too terribly much of me... at least, not individually).

I began to wonder just how many books I have read this semester already and decided to pull together all the required reading I had in my room and make a nice little stack. The picture below does not even include books borrowed from the library and works found online, but in total I have read twenty-one complete works, as well as snippets and chapters from other books and articles. In two months. 

Some of the books I've read so far this year
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, now that I've done the math, I'm a little proud of being able to pull such a feat. That does not include the three or four books I've read for the fun of it either. Human beings are capable of absorbing and storing a truly impressive amount of information, a fact of which I believe we should be awed. 

But before I could pat myself on the back I realized that my attempts are, in reality, very humble. Before the Internet age people would spend hours of reading and would devour libraries of books. Even today we have people such as Louise Brown (pictured below) reading massive amounts of text.

My newest hero ( full story at this Link)

This super reader reads 12 books a week (leaving my"impressive" reading load in the dust in just two weeks). She is currently in her nineties and has burrowed over 25,ooo books from her library. That is super human. And this is just in a 60 year period! That is only 2/3 of her life people! She's been reading since she was five, so Lord knows how many books she's actually read in her life. This woman is dedication incarnate. 

The most mind boggling part of this story is that she is doing this for no other reason than she likes to read. I mean, my 21 books boost my GPA and get my a bachelors degree. And to be honest, I've only enjoyed a small fraction of those books (Jane Austen taking up the majority of that minority). Given the choice, I probably would have put them down if I didn't have a quiz or awkward silence in class discussion to spurs me forward. 

The question becomes what separates the book utilitarians from the book lovers? Many intellectuals read, but not for the exercise in of itself. It is the difference between a person running to stay in shape and running to feel the breeze in their face. One is happiest when it's over, the other happiest while it occurs.  

College and schooling can turn former book lovers to the other camp if they are not careful. We skim because it's three in the morning and the coffee is gone. We skip reading if we know that the professor will accept our BS. Think about it though. We are getting credit to do something that we would do anyways. Why aren't we more excited? I've realized that I don't want to use books anymore and I don't want to make them work for me. I want to enjoy it once more and maybe enjoy my major a little more in the process.

So out of curiosity, can anyone top my 21 books? Let me know in the comments if you can figure out the math.  


  1. I'm also an English Major and this semester has been filled with books, as usual. I'm taking my last four upper division levels, and it was probably the worst decision of my life. I'm in the same boat as you right now. I have an equal amount of reading in all of my classes. I have 19 books under my belt so far, and plenty more to go.

    I love to read. It's part of why I became an English Major, but reading now has become more of a struggle every now and then. I think it's mostly because sometimes I have to read things that I don't want to read, and then I have to analyze every single aspect of it. It almost ruins the magic of a book that you just love. It's also hard because you don't have time to enjoy what you read, you know? You just have to move on to the next thing. For example, I'm taking a YA Dystopian Lit Class, and we have to read a book a week. It's definitely hard to enjoy these books because I'm being rushed through them. I think this is probably why I can't wait to graduate.

    Side Note: I just finished The Things They Carried for a class. I really liked it. How did you enjoy it?

    1. The Things They Carried was unfortunately one of the books that got swept up in the early part of the semester. I read it in two sittings and did not really allow myself time to enjoy it. I did like his concepts though, especially the idea that fiction and reality blur to create truth. I really want to read it again though over the summer. I just rushed through it too fast to give an honest opinion.

  2. This semester I haven't had to read a lot of books, but I remember two semesters ago I had 18 credit hours and I read at least fifteen books-- but that's not quite 21. XD

    I also love to read-- but when I got to college, so much of my time was taken up by books that I really didn't want to read or didn't like, but had to for quizzes and such. I realized by the time I got to junior year that I would read 6 or 7 awesome books a week during the summer, and then during the school year, I would not pick up a fun book for an ENTIRE SEMESTER.

    This left me feeling really sad, so I made a New Year's resolution to read more fun books-- although sometimes these books have taken up my homework time, I feel a lot happier.

    Side Note: We had to read The Things They Carried for one of my high school classes, and it was one of the few books that I was forced to read that I really, really enjoyed. It's about Vietnam, but mostly it's about storytelling-- which I think is amazing. It's a great book for writers, I think.

  3. I'm also a literature major with a philosophy minor, but you definitely have me beat... I was a voracious reader growing up, and to be honest, college deflated that balloon pretty rapidly. Especially since I no longer have time for recreational reading during semesters...

    I really adore your perspective about using books vs making them work for you, also. Even with the worst "I have to read this" book, maybe it's important to remind myself that, even though I hate it, there's still something I can walk away with from the experience.

  4. As a business major, I'm primarily reading! But, I still wouldn't think that it's amounted to 21 books worth of text. I really enjoyed your analogy of the person running to stay in shape vs. the person running for enjoyment; it was spot on. This semester, I really enjoyed having to review a book because it forced me to actually read a book for novelty's sake, well sort of. At the very least, a welcome step away from reading about the world's latest managerial terminology and how it's going to blah blah blah...

  5. I know this semester I don't have you beat with 21 one books, but last semester I was close to that number! It's hard to get motivated to read many of the books we have to read in class. This semester there is on book that's sticking out to me as really enjoyable. I mean they are not bad, just not my type of read. Last semester though when I had that huge list of required reads I enjoyed the majority of them, many of which I had to read for Cathy's novel writing class. I agree that enjoying what you read is an integral part of reading so getting through those 21 books might be hard, but at least you can say you have read them :)

    Lastly Ms. Brown is an icon! I can only hope to read half as many books as she has when I'm even close to her age.