Books, how educational are they today? We all like to read, but the question is: what is the content of the books we read? And on what basis do we select the books we want to read? Why are there so many underrated talented authors who are writing down lines of poetry on scraps of paper and at the back of bills, and no one gives them a second look? Why are so many writers who are worshipped by large numbers despite their works having not much literary worth? Such were the questions I was musing today; I realised that I must board the time machine, and delve into the recent past, to find the answers.
I love books. I mean I really love books. I admit to being perfectly happy losing myself in a bookstore or library. And I am happy as a kitten whenever I get the chance to curl up with a book on Saturday afternoons. I love the feel of a book in my hands but I can also comfortably carry them with me on my tablet or listen to one in the car. All these stories and adventures give me the chance to explore life through the eyes of fellow human beings, share in their knowledge and feel their emotions all from my comfy chair. I guess you could say I am passionate about literature.
So much so that I decided to get a degree in English. At times however (and I have seen this in comments on the VLE and conversations with fellow students) it can be difficult, even for the most passionate among us, to explain exactly why we chose to study what we study. Others might even question the wisdom of doing an English degree in a technological world.
I first discovered Roald Dahl in the library of my primary school. It was not a library with shelves and shelves of books, looking all impressive, and promising an adventure for a seven-year-old. I remembered it as a rather modest one: it did not amass a vast array of books though it had been around for very long. Yet, it was there where I acquired the love for reading.
Roald Dahl was one of those amongst the library’s collections. Quite like any child, I took to him almost instantly. I remembered that I wanted to be transformed into all of his characters all at once. Matilda’s intelligence was something I grew covetous of; and to live the rest of my life as a mouse like the boy in The Witches was one of my childhood daydreams. The most absurd idea that I had, was the wish that I were an orphan so that the BFG (the big friendly giant) could come and take me away to his land.
I managed to grow out of these strange fantasies, fortunately.
However, Roald Dahl did not leave me─he left an ineffaceable imprint on my life. His works retained their places as delectable reads which I revisit time and again. They are like comfort food─nostalgic and assuring with their familiarity.
It is the weekend again; and this means allotting time for studies. For the entire week, I haven’t been able to sit myself down for a good, solid session of studying. Looking at the approaching weekends with the relish of spending hours with books might sound strange to some people; to me, however, swotting up on literary terms, or assimilating a critic’s work is an ideal way of enjoying my free time.
Balancing work and studies could never be an easy task. Besides feeling dead beat at the end of a working day, the realisation that I haven’t read a word always weighs me down more. Although I have tried to squeeze some reading time in during the day, such as when I am traveling to and from work, or when I am having my lunch break, it is still insufficient to study productively.
Therefore, my weekends are really precious. Just like how a working mother would look forward to the end of the week as a time for her children, I always anticipate with pleasure the joy of spending my Saturdays and Sundays with my books. But no matter how many weekends I have, I don’t seem to have enough time to complete reading everything on my list. It is precisely at such acute moments of frustration that I pleasantly discovered how I could make full use of the UOL’s subject guides.
Despite the somewhat romantic notion I had about enjoying a leisurely time after finishing my degree, it has worked out to be a bit different. This summer I have had very little break time between interviewing for new opportunities, IT repairs, a 180-degree shift in a work project, finishing my home redecorating project, and preparing to enter a new academic program. You would think I could see all of that coming, but, unfortunately, no. What managing it all helped me realize is that reading and studying has been a kind of stress management tool for me, in addition to being something I really, really enjoy. Studying as a form of stress management might sound unusual to you. It certainly sounds unusual to me, but while managing all the rough and tumble of professional life this week, I realized that having my reading and intense engagement with English studies is an excellent stress management tool and helps me maintain a helpful perspective on other projects.
It is that time of the year again; the familiar, frenzied yet excited emotions that you felt a year ago. It is like travelling to a foreign country―a time of exploration and discovery; but accompanied by the anxiety of the unknown. You welcome it though. Despite all the tension it had given you for one full year, you did feel buoyed up by a sense of achievement by the end of it.
Now, the new list of texts (again) intimidates you. You slowly realise that the sheer number of them will tower over you. Some of them are heavy, more so on the mind than in the hand. Merriam Webster calls them ‘tomes’― “large or scholarly books”. Surely, you want to be ‘scholarly’, but your packed schedule stands between you and the books. You will, however, be relieved to know that it is not impossible to approach this seemingly herculean task. What I find immensely helpful, when I did my first year, as well as now when I am gearing up for the upcoming academic year, is to first gather the raw materials―things which construct the skeletal frame. It is the first step, which I think is essential before I approach the BA English programme. I have also imagined the tools for this first step as the sculpting knife and the stone; the very basic materials I need before I proceed to chisel a completed sculpture. As an Asian doing the English course, I feel, knowing the history of England― both the country’s as well as its literature, provides the bare necessities to develop better appreciation. Three books, in particular, I have found extremely helpful in providing me with adequate knowledge within the shortest time.
What a week we have had here in Pittsburgh! Jelly Bean, my collie dog, and I have accomplished a lot. We spent some time digging over and planting three new flowerbeds, began a creative project, and finished our ‘spring’ cleaning that got sadly, sadly behind when concentrating on exams and some professional projects. This week we also finally finished two big, lingering work projects. (Yes, we – she is a very good co-pilot for long stretches at my desk.) Having professional and personal projects like this is a great thing right now. While it is sinking, albeit slowly, into my brain that I actually completed the degree, I have not quite figured out what to do with the time devoted to study. There was a celebration and a few tears of relief and joy when grades were released but nothing like the sense of satisfaction that came with the invitation to our graduation ceremony in the spring.
It feels like transition time, and perfectly timed too with the lovely feeling of spring ripening into summer, not that it is always a process without drama. This week we had an incredible summer storm. In just a few hours, we had three inches of rain. A building on our street was struck by lightning, streets were closed from flash flooding, people were rescued from floating vehicles, and our garden room flooded impressively. Although Jelly Bean is normally quite brave during thunder and lightning storms, she felt better sitting in my lap as we watched this one from her favorite window seat. In an almost Shakespearean way, like our own personal ‘Tempest’, the storm arrived along with my decision to pursue new professional opportunities and set new academic goals.