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Posts Tagged ‘undergrad’

On Writing in Books

February 18, 2010 8 comments

Growing up, I was taught that books are precious objects that we do not make any marks in.  Of course, most of our books were borrowed from the library, so this made perfect sense.

Then university came, along with my two very text-heavy majors–American History and English and American Literature.  I was encouraged to mark up my books, both the primary texts of my history courses and the literature of my English courses.  At first I was hesitant, using post-it notes stuck to the pages to mark my ideas.  After the course was over, I’d remove the post-it notes, leaving just a few highlighted passages.

Along came the year when I took two courses in a row that taught Paradise Lost.  The first course was about heresy in history and literature (freaking amazing class, dudes).  The second was on the Western Canon.  I opened my copy of Paradise Lost in Western Canon and found myself devastated that all of my heresy observations were gone.  Gone and never to return.  To this day I wish I had the notations I made during the exquisite heresy lectures.  Nothing taught me the vast possibilities in good literature like approaching Paradise Lost in these two different manners did.  And nothing showed me better the value of writing in a book.

My experience reading isn’t just for shits and giggles, as the saying goes.  I learn things about myself, about the world.  My perceptions and ideas flux and change.  There are the books that I read as a teen that I’ve re-read in my 20s, and I’ve wished that I could see on the page my reaction to the writing as a teenager.

The experience of reading a word or a phrase and having it strike you.  Of wanting to underline it.  Of wanting to note what it means to you right then.  Expand this to include notations of things you’ve learned in relation to this word or phrase, such as the fact that you googled it and discovered it was dangerous for the author to write such a thing at the time.  Or even just the definition of a word you didn’t know.

I know many people think it sullies a book to write in it, but I think it expands the book.  I know people who are disgusted if they check out a book from the library and it’s written in, but I find that to be a wonderful treasure.  I love seeing how someone else reacted to the same book.  Someone who I will never know beyond the fact that they were so moved by a passage that they felt the need to write “omg!!” alongside it or that they knew so much about Greek mythology that they noted which goddess a passage is referring to.

Reading should be interactive, and books are necessarily a part of that.  When I die and people clean out my personal library, I want the copies of my books to show the wear and tear that comes from truly interacting with the books you love.  I want them to be worn from multiple readings and covered with notations and highlighting made in different colors throughout the course of my life.  I want my books to reflect the impact that they’ve had on me, so I’ll continue to write in them.  Even if it means that when I decide in my minimalist way to let a book go that I have a more difficult time finding someone to swap with.

Wolf Bite Wednesday (Impossible Graduate Assignments)

February 10, 2010 2 comments

Dear professors and adjunct professors who teach graduate level courses,

I’m imagining there must be some super-secret meeting of you folks where you all agree upon how to be evil to us as some form of rite of passage to earn our graduate degrees.  It’s not enough that we’ve already fought our way through high school, the SATs, freshman year of undergrad, the rest of undergrad, and the epic painful life choice of what the hell am I going to do for a career.  It’s also not enough that most of us are working real jobs while we also partake in endless hours of class and homework.  For some reason, these are not enough dues paid.  We must pay more.  Enter the class work or homework that you, the professor, know has no answer or solution.  The unsolvable problem.  The unattainable quest.

I have never encountered this in my education before.  I may have banged my head against the table attempting to solve for x in high school algebra, but I was always confident that there was indeed an answer.  My teacher could never be so cruel as to assign an unsolvable problem.  Other things may have changed throughout my education–citation style desired, writing style desired, form notes should be taken in–but this one thing remained true.  There was always an answer to the problem.

Then grad school came.  I will never forget the endless hours I spent attempting to figure out how to update a mythical library’s computers so that all of them would run in a similar capability level within a certain budget only to find out after the assignment was handed in that the problem was impossible! Hah!  See, what I learned there is, in the real world, sometimes there is no solution.

Well duh!  I know that sometimes it sucks in the real world.  I know sometimes there’s just not enough money for what you need.  I didn’t live on a intern’s salary of $120 a month and expect to be able to eat anything beyond pasta and olive oil.  This, however, is not the real world.  This is school.  You are not being creative.  You are not teaching us a valuable lesson.  If you really were concerned about this, you could do something like tell us in lecture that sometimes your budget isn’t big enough to do what your boss wants you to do.  Or sometimes databases suck and won’t work to find what you need.  Or you could create an actually useful assignment that doesn’t lie to us and tell us “your boss is being an asshole and expects you to do all this with this minuscule amount of money. Figure out the best solution you can that might make him happy.”

You are not being creative when you make us do class work consisting of attempts to find articles in databases that you know won’t be there.  You could just tell us “this database is only good for these types of things.”  I mean, isn’t that what grad school is for?  To teach us the librarian-fu secrets that will make us look bad-ass on the job?

For the love of god, we are paying enough dues already.  We’ve been running on less than healthy amounts of sleep since we were around 16 years old.  We’ve chugged unhealthy amounts of caffeine, studied endlessly for standardized tests, filled out confusing as fuck application forms, and more.  Grad school should be about helping us, not giving us more hoops to jump through.

So, please, please, stop giving us assignments you know are impossible to solve.

If you don’t, I swear I’ll stop caring about them altogether.

Sincerely,

One annoyed grad student

Reading Goals for 2010

January 4, 2010 4 comments

I don’t want to over-plan my reading for 2010, but I do want to give it a loose structure and maybe broaden my horizons a bit.  I also want to be practical about my reading, for instance the fact that I rarely have time to go to the library (erm, the public one, not the one I work at 5 days a week).  Anywho, with that in mind, my loosely-defined goals for 2010 are:

  • Read the books I bought for undergrad classes but didn’t have time to read then.  Seeing as how my two majors are topics I actually like (History and English and American Literature), I actually do want to read these old “assignments.”  Expect to see a bit of ancient literature, Chekhov, and noir.
  • Read a bit more nonfiction in areas I want to be more educated in, preferably science.  Seeing as how I work in a medical library, this should be pretty easy to pull off cheaply.
  • Utilize Swaptree to get rid of books I weeded from my collection at the end of the year and in turn get books I want to read.  Since I’m doing an exact 1:1 exchange, this should keep my book collection on the smaller side.
  • Courtesy of a challenge from @shaindelr over on Twitter who gasped about my not having read any poetry in 2009–read one book of poetry.  However, I’m not making any promises that it won’t be of the ancient variety.  😉
  • Finally, watching Japanese movies got me pretty into the stories their culture has to offer.  That along with seeing some graphic novels in friends’ houses made me want to give the genre an official shot, so I’ll be reading at least 3 graphic novels/manga in 2010.  I’m super-excited to read my first Battle Royale, which I wanted to read after seeing and loving the movie.