Monday, August 29, 2005

Summer reading II

So on the heels of my last post, I've been thinking, and have decided that the first thing I want to ask my new students on the first day of class is: So what did everyone read this summer?

No preamble, no hey-I'm-the-prof. Just ask the question, point-blank. This will be an interesting experiment. I figure I run a certain risk of alienating some students who will see this as professorial posturing or condescension, but then, knowing my classroom style, it's pretty even money they would end up thinking that about me anyway. Remind me some time to do a blog about course evaluations I've had.

I've been thinking about my summers in undergrad. I sometimes miss that clean break from the academic world, the four months of summer employment that allow for a brain decompression and enough of a taste of the working world to make you desperate for school again at the end of August.

But the best part about those summers was the reading list I'd compiled throughout the year -- all of the books whose titles intrigued me, those books I'd picked up on a whim at the university bookstore but never had the time to get to, the "further reading" suggested by professors ... when I worked for my uncle doing housepainting and reno work, I'd often spend anywhere between 1-2 hours a day on transit making my way around Toronto to our work site. Luckily, I'm not one to get motion sickness, so I'd pass that time reading. I'd usually be early, so I'd stop at a Coffee Time or Tim's for a coffee and muffin and read there for another half hour. That was the best part of the summers ... now that I don't have that same break as I did before, I get very nostalgic for it. There was something beautifully incongruous about sitting on the subway in filthy paint-spattered clothes reading Faulkner.

So I wonder ... will any of my students be summer readers? I will ask them out of interest, but also to start laying a certain amount of philosophical groundwork for my courses: namely, that reading is the whole point, not just of an English degree but of a liberal arts degree generally; that if you ever want to be a good writer, I can teach you the mechanics of it but only reading a wide range of styles and texts and subjects will lend your own style and vocabulary sophistication; and that the best way to a more subtle and nuanced (my word again!) understanding of the world is to learn as much about it as possible. Of which reading is, granted, but one strategy ...

Sorry about this lengthy meditation, but it really does proceed from a consistent bafflement that so many university students I've encountered in the past have so very little curiosity and so little desire to explore the wealth of stuff a university education holds out to them beyond what they need in order to maintain their required average.

(A quick apology to Alex and Sylvia, who were subjected to a more upbeat version of this tirade day after day this summer and last for SAO).

Part of the Signal Hill hike I do every saturday takes me through the Battery, a small village right down by the harbour. On the gate of one of the more flamboyantly decorated houses there is a sign (one of many) declaring "Education is not the same thing as intelligence!" Now, I do have to agree wholeheartedly with this: I've know far too many well-educated morons and far too many incredibly intelligent people whose schooling stopped well short of university to ever claim the opposite. I wouldn't want to give the impression that I think the more degrees a person has, the better they are (or to put it a better way: can you imagine the disastrous consequences if professors ran the world? the mind cringes).

So what has everyone been reading this summer??


Femme d'ailleurs said...

Contrary to what many professors think students DO read. And I am not just talking for myself, but for many others. But the sole fact that they read doesn't necessarily mean they are going to share that with you. Some might be afraid of being judged by what they read. But the biggest issue here in North America and particularly at MUN is that many students don't want to talk, be it in class or in prof's office, in the corridor etc. Personally I hate seeing all the heads go down to look at their notes whenever a prof poses ANY question. So I hope you have a lot of those who welcome discussion :)

My reading this summer consisted of Da Vinci Code (version française)and La servante écarlate (Handmaid`s Tale) by M.Atwood (not finished yet). I am a VERY slow reader.


andrew said...

i would love to hear about some of your course evaluations, i bet there were a few students who dont 'get' your teaching style...

Nathaniel S.B. said...

-Kerouac - Dharma Bums
-Elton - Popcorn
-Elton - High Society
---> Elton's pretty gay, but those crazy english blokes he creates are just so damn
charming, no?
-Wolfe - Radical Chic
-Orwell - Animal Farm
-Ellis - American Psycho
-this other book called Off the Rails in Phnom Penn (so stupid)

iceman said...

Blogs. That's what I've been reading this summer (Along with "The Battle for God"

FanglyFish said...


Has everybody forgotten about the internet?

syl said...

mmm summer reading. this is something that I aimed high for this summer then realized I didn't get as much reading done as I had wished. I read Tuesdays with Morrie which I had been meaning to read for a while...and possibly to a distaste for some, I read Confessions of a Shopaholic, and am currently working my way through Number II of the series. I began reading SlaughterHouse Five as well, and realized that I will be reading it for Blackmore anyways this coming I'll just wait until it's time.

But summertime is the best time for some light reads. :)

Kimie from SAO said...

Hi Chris! Wow, after all this time, I finally get to post something on your blog! Yay! I've been doing lots of reading this summer:

Fall On Your Knees - Ann-Marie MacDonald

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult (REALLY REALLY good)

The Pact - Jodi Picoult

Plain Truth - Jodi Picoult

A Map of the World - Jane Hamilton

The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom

AND a whole lot more that would take forever to list. All have been really good. I've really enjoyed Jodi Picoult's books. I'm not sure if you know who she is but she's an excellent writer.

That's all. I'm really enjoying your blog. Thanks for the updates. Western misses you. SAO wasn't the same without you!

mr. tomas ubik said...

even though i wrote this last post, i will re iterate in a much more concise barr like format

amis - money

marquez - hundred years of solitude

how soccer explains the world - a jewish new yorker? cant remember his name

blogs upon blogs

more cancer research than Id ever thought i could soak in. let me tell you Cancer Care Ontario's Cancer 2020 is quite the read.

no war - naomi klein - great find

liner notes to all the music i bought this summer. get thievery corporation's richest man in babylon album, great liner notes.