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A Classic Case of Book Guilt

A Classic Case of Book Guilt

By Miss Marm

I'm a junior and I'm trying to make high school as impressive as possible. I want to major in English when I get to college, so I am trying to read books that will look impressive to have read. Any suggestions?

Another problem I have, (because I have books like Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and such), but I can't seem to get the motivation to actually PICK THEM UP AND READ THEM! I look online at colleges, '101 Books to Read' lists and such and I know I should read those books. But I buy them, they sit in my room and I shy away from reading them. I'm a bookworm, but needing to read books intimidates me... Can y'all please help???? I'm getting desperate and I really want to be knowledgeable in my major, but will I read these books in college? If so, do I really need to read them now? Please help!

Ah, the true mark of a bookworm: guilt. There are so many classics to get through, and you know you should read them and love them, but you just can't get into some of them, and you feel horribly guilty about it. We've all (all of us book nerds, anyway) been there.

Let's set the question of guilt for a moment and talk about whether you need to read The Scarlet Letter and Moby-Dick and so on before you arrive at college. I'm happy to tell you that you most certainly do not. No application in the world will ask you to list the books you've read. There's a chance that books will come up during your interview, especially if you mention that you want to be an English major, but your interviewer won't say, "Have you read The Scarlet Letter? Prove it!" Instead, she'll say, "What are your favorite books?" or "Have you read anything great recently?" (UPDATE: A Sparkler emailed to say: [Miss Marm] is incorrect in her assertion that no college will ask for a list of books one has read. Columbia University's app specifically asks for the student to list books read in the past year for and outside of school. Thanks." Since I attended Columbia University, there is no earthly reason I should have gotten this wrong. Sorry, guys! I stand by my advice, though, that it's best to read the classics you actually enjoy.)

When you get to college, you'll take American Lit, because you feel compelled to get through the canon, and because you know it's your duty to read some Herman Melville. You'll read these books, and you'll hear brilliant professors talk about them, and for that reason you'll love them, and you'll understand why they're enduring classics (except for The Last of the Mohicans. That's more of an enduring pain-in-the-ass-ic).

There are some classics you gobble up on your own, and with relish. There are others that you can enjoy only with help, a few deadlines, and a looming exam. And there are some that you loathe with your whole being the first time you read them, and fall in love with ten years later (that happened to me with The Scarlet Letter).

Now, back to the guilt. Here's what I think: you're someone who loves to read, and you only have one lifetime to get through as many books as possible. Yes, it's very important to struggle with important works from time to time, feeling your way along until light dawns and you understand why this difficult work is so great. That's how you get your brain to grow and your understanding of literature to expand. But it's also important to feed your love of literature by reading classics you love so much you wish you could eat them. It's possible to find novels that challenge you and make you happy, and you should read as many of those as possible.

The tricky part is figuring out what those novels are. When I was in high school, I loved George Eliot and Jane Austen with a fiery passion (still do). Sparklers? What are the classics you've read on your own, and truly adored?

Topics: reading, the classics, guilt

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