Finish Fewer Books

I finished a really good book the other day.

It’s called It Devours by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (the same people who created that bizarre and wonderful podcast we told you about that one time).

It’s set in the desert community of Night Vale, and it’s got all the same wonderful, bizarre things that we’ve come to expect from this fictional world. Ferocious librarians, intrusive surveillance by Vague Yet Menacing Government Agencies, portals into alternate universes where time is elastic, and cute scientists.

Books like this one don’t come along very often, and I felt pretty lucky to have stumbled across something so cool as I closed the book for the last time. But for every great book that I tear through in a week, there are a couple mediocre ones that I muscle through just to say that I’ve read them.

This has been one of my new year’s resolutions for a few years now: finish fewer books.

I love a good book. (You’re shocked, right?) I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember- probably starting from the third grade, when I hid a novel behind my math textbook and read during every lesson, only to get home and have no idea how to do my math homework.

(When I was two years old I found these beauties and decided they were my reading glasses. My parents took SO many photos.)
I used to worry that there weren’t enough books in the world.

I have a distinct memory from the first grade. I’m six years old, standing in my brand-new sneakers at Sunset Heights Elementary. It’s the first week of school, and us first-graders are getting a tour of the building. The gym, the art room, the principal’s office, and the library. Everything looks twelve feet tall, and I am in awe.

The library is the last stop, and the one I am most anticipating. We’re allowed to get out of line and browse for a while. I run my hands over the colorful spines of picture books. The shelves go on endlessly. This has to be all the books in the world! I think to myself.

But the longer I stroll around the shelves, the smaller the room looks. Wait a minute, this isn’t that many books, I think. It probably wouldn’t take me that long to read all of these.

The awe turns to panic. What if I read every book in the world? What would I do if there was nothing left to read?

These thoughts genuinely occurred to me. Was this possibly one of the first irrational worries I’d developed in my life? Maybe. Was I way over-estimating my speed-reading abilities? Definitely.

There was simply too much time and not enough books! At that moment, standing in the (tiny) biography section, I encountered a six-year-old’s version of existential dread.

I’ve since learned that the opposite is true. There are so many books and such a finite amount of time! So in 2018, I invite you to join me in this movement of finishing fewer books. Here are our guiding principles:

Read lots of books. Read across genres! Try fiction and memoirs and histories and biographies and social commentaries.
Ask for recommendations from anyone and everyone. This is how I’ve found almost all of my favorites.
Give each book at least 50 pages, maybe 100. They deserve the benefit of the doubt.
If you’re not enjoying it, don’t finish it. Not if you’re halfway through, not if you have ten pages left. It might be someone else’s favorite book, but it doesn’t have to be yours.
For every book you give up on, have another one waiting to take its place.
If you find a really good one, let me know.

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Academia, Artsy

Hey, I Know English Too!

“Oh, so you’re an English major? Do you, uh, plan on getting a job when you graduate?” –Something more than three people have actually said to me in the last six months.
You know how Harry Potter was destined to save the wizarding world from evil? Well, I was destined to become an English major. (For about five minutes at the start of freshman year, I thought that I was destined to become a Russian major. I wasn’t.) My lit teacher senior year of high school told us that a former student of hers was studying English at a liberal arts school in upstate New York or western Pennsylvania or something. The former student was taking a semester-long class devoted solely to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Upon hearing this, I turned to the girl sitting next to me and mouthed, the horror! (Unrelated note: Julie was in this class with me for an entire year. She sat at the opposite side of the classroom and we spoke maybe twice. Star-crossed lovers.)

Now, let’s pause here for a second. I thought my joke was totally hilarious because 1) reading Heart of Darkness is kind of like slogging through a muddy swamp in Old Navy flip flops and 2) I am a nerd. (If it’s been a long time since your last high school lit class, the horror! The horror! is what Kurtz says at the end of the Heart of Darkness just before he dies. He’s talking about human nature or vegan chicken or something.) I don’t remember exactly how the girl sitting next to me reacted—if I had to guess, she laughed politely and then quickly left the room—but I chuckled to myself at my literary pun for a long time. I mean a long time.
How did I not realize that English was my destiny?
Before I became an English major, I asked the same questions that you would. What could you possibly do with four years’ experience studying literature? How could that translate into anything remotely practical? Are beanies and oversized eyeglasses required to gain entry into a Shakespearean lit class?

To answer your most important question: no, beanies are optional. (Oversized glasses are strongly recommended, though. That’s why I got a pair this summer. People can smell your intellect.) But when I declared an English major, I found that people tend to have questions. And comments. And a lot of confidence that I’m never going to get a job.

“So, you want to be a teacher, right?” Nope. Nope I don’t.

“You’re an English major? Hey, I know English too!” Everyone thinks they’re the first to come up with that one.

“English? So… what are you going to do with that?” I mean, I was kind of planning on doodling Toni Morrison quotes on park benches for the rest of my life, but now you’ve really got me thinking!

“What’s your favorite book?” I like this question, I really do. But it feels like my answer should be terrific. I usually go with On the Road by Jack Kerouac because it’s avant-garde, yet classic. (Plot twist: I have never read On the Road by Jack Kerouac.)

So yes, I take classes like “Introduction to Shakespeare” and “Contemporary American Literature.” I write scenes about people who only exist in my head and I say words like doppelganger and synecdoche out loud when I probably shouldn’t.
But when I have a thought, or a weird feeling, or a crazy idea, I can bring it to life.
That’s a practical skill, if you can believe it. Just look at any book, article, headline, or advertisement that’s ever been published. For me, being an English major is all about finding the right words, putting them in order, and making you see what I see. It’s like inception or telepathy. Being an English major is like being a magician, basically. We are wordsmiths in training. So you can keep telling me how unemployable I am—I don’t mind. If you need me, I’ll be over here making magic.

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Academia, Uncategorized

Long Days, Short Weeks

“Today, me will live in the moment. Unless it is unpleasant, in which case, me will eat a cookie.” -Cookie Monster.

Friends, I’d like to talk to you about living in the moment. Hannah and I have been trying to channel Cookie Monster, but we’ve only been successful at the eating-cookies part. Lately it’s felt like life is a race, a desperate sprint to a time when you aren’t feeling stretched too thin. But every time you approach the finish line, it jumps back another mile.

Depending on your tendency to commit to things without thinking, college can be a lot. (I swear that midterms have lasted the entirety of October. It’s been midterms forever. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t midterms.) And on top of classes, you commit to other things. You join clubs, get a job, spearhead group projects, and maybe even start a blog with your roommate. Hannah and I were thinking of starting a cover band, but we might have too much on our plates right now. Deepest apologies to our hypothetical fans.

Now I’m a firm believer in keeping busy. Too much free time and before you know it you’re four hour-long episodes deep of The Newsroom and you can’t tell if it’s day or night. (This happened once.) There’s nothing wrong with taking opportunities and living fully. Lately we’ve been calling it, living on the edge… (of a breakdown). In case you don’t know what this looks like, here are some visuals of me and Hann at some low points:


And it feels like everything is in fast-forward. The days are never-ending but the weeks are incredibly short. Monday through Friday we put our heads down and wait for the weekend, wishing it would all rush by in a peppy 80’s-music montage. Then we’re in our third week of midterms and we have no idea how it happened. So I’d like to offer some unqualified wisdom to you guys.

At some point tomorrow, slow down and reflect. Take time and enjoy your lunch before you rush off to another meeting. Save an hour to watch an episode of your favorite show. Walk the long way to class and take deep breaths of clean air. Friday might be better, but today is good.

It’s not always that easy, but maybe we can make a habit of this. Maybe you’ll become the relentlessly optimistic one in your group of friends. I bet most of them wouldn’t disown you. And if anyone out there is being hit especially hard this week, know that I believe in you. Midterms will be over eventually. (Just like a few more weeks.)

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Academia, Uncategorized

Things to Do When You Have Too Many Things to Do

In college, and maybe in life, it seems like workloads come in waves. You’re just coasting along, eating a fair amount of cookies in the dining hall, averaging about a season of Breaking Bad a week, when suddenly you take a look at that syllabus you forgot existed. It looks like you’ve got a pretty hefty exam coming up next Monday. And that 2,000 word research paper you’ve been putting off, that’s also due Monday at midnight.

This one syllabus reminds you of those few other syllabi-things you printed out a couple weeks ago, so you figure you should probably check them too. And hey, would you look at that? An exam on everything you’ve covered in Spanish so far, next Monday.

Then you take a break from Breaking Bad to meet with your school’s Undergraduate Research Journal supervisor, who is thrilled to hear about your interest in writing an article for the journal– in fact, would you be able to have a draft in by next Monday?

So now you’re starting to panic a little bit, but it’s totally fine because your favorite class is up next, it’s mostly discussion based and a major GPA boost. Except right as you’re about to walk out the door at the end of class, your professor throws out a reminder about that reaction paper you’re supposed to have been working on. You check the syllabus (the only one you didn’t look at earlier, you figured you’d be in the clear) and realize that the reaction paper is due– you guessed it– next Monday.

This chain of events seems to happen about every 2-3 weeks. Julie and I refer to the day of impending academic doom as Hell Day, or sometimes D-Day if we’re feeling historical. Today was the Monday after Homecoming weekend, and reality bitch-slapped me so hard I may have lost a few teeth. So in honor of my own personal D-Day, I have constructed a list of things to do when you have too many things to do, from a procrastinating professional herself. Enjoy, my friends.

Check Facebook. Peruse pictures from this weekend for the 81st time. (Look how much fun I was having! Just 24 hours ago!)

 Check Tumblr. Cringe a few times. Contemplate writing a couple verses of angsty poetry.

 Get the hell off Tumblr.

 Check Twitter. Engage in witty Twitter banter with your roommate who is also procrastinating on the other side of the study lounge. Make sure everyone can tell you’re the wittier one. (Suck it, Jules.)

 Call your mom. (She doesn’t believe you’re the wittier one, but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.)

 Dance to this song in your underwear.

 Take a walk. (Studies show that 20-30 minutes of outdoor activity can improve your ability to write papers a few hours from now.)

 Make up statistics in your head to justify the fact that you just walked circles around campus for 45 minutes in an attempt to not do your paper. (Studies show that 45 minutes is actually even more beneficial than the originally planned 20-30.)
Watch this video.


Watch that video again.
Succumb to the long list of Louis CK “Recommended For You” YouTube videos that are calling your name.


Maybe check out some John Mulaney too.


Write motivational sticky notes to yourself to put on your desk. (Never Stop Exploring. Clear Your Mind of Can’t. Today’s Soups Are Tomorrow’s Poops.)
Start your paper you idiot, next Monday is gonna be here a lot sooner than you think.

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Academia, Uncategorized

God-awful Textbooks: When to Just Skim

In high school, I considered textbooks to be the bane of my existence. They were unnecessarily large and required you to jump through all sort of hoops to keep them in “good condition”, like expertly crafting sleeves out of paper bags or scouring countless Rite Aids to find those stretchy book-sock things. Then they added a wildly disproportionate weight to your backpack despite their size. Blandly worded scoliosis.

The only upsides to these hand-me-down fountains of boredom was exploring the annotations left by those before you (I once wrote “This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince” in a chemistry book because I figured it’d be the closest I ever got to Potions class), and the fact that they were free.

In college, they’re not even free. What is this blasphemy? You have a few bleak options:

Go for convenience and buy them from your campus bookstore, but pay ridiculous sums of money for them.
Order them online after classes have started and suffer through a 3-to-five-business-day purgatory when readings are being assigned but you do not yet have the material. (This will likely be the only time all semester when you feel compelled to do reading assignments.)

I always choose door number two. I peruse websites of questionable integrity to find used books at the lowest possible rates and then wait up to two weeks for them to arrive, often more than gently used. This year I held a personal record, however. My last book to arrive was a gem entitled, Functional Anatomy of Speech, Language, and Hearing. It showed up two weeks late, didn’t have a real binding, and proudly displayed this image on the front:

When the package I knew to be this book arrived in the mail room, I waited another 3 weeks to actually retrieve it. My liberal arts-inclined brain was simply not itching to read a poorly constructed book of such science-y nature. When I did finally open it, I was struck by the preface. (I read the preface to put off reading the real book.) It provided some advice, and the advice was to “skim” rather than read the chapters, because if I tried to actually read this book, I would most definitely become overwhelmed.

I’m sure the authors were only trying to help the anatomy-challenged population, but seriously? How can you write something and then preface it with, “yeah, you probably shouldn’t read this.” I’ve taken their advice to heart, and used this textbook not for reading but for staring blankly at aerial views of the human larynx. Worth every penny.

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Academia, Uncategorized

Who needs scholarship anyway?

If you are or have been in college, there’s a decent chance that you owe a lot of money to the U.S government, or whichever magical entity has loaned you the funds needed to pay your wildly expensive tuition. There is a simple solution to the I’m amassing debt up to my eyeballs every semester and I’m not even guaranteed a job after this anxiety that seizes me every time I look at my online bill statement, and that is scholarship. Free money. Getting paid for good grades or being left-handed or being a first-generation college student or writing some kickass application essay.

Sure, my parents bugged me to apply for one occasionally. Just fill out some forms, they said. Write a few essays, they said. But before I left, I still lived in a youthfully simple wonderland where financial stresses were this distant enigma that only parents dealt with. I hadn’t a clue how mortgages or insurance worked, (I still don’t know how those things work) and college bills seemed the intangible part of the experience. I couldn’t bring myself to worry about them.

Well, now I’m a sophomore and taking out loans with unspeakable interest rates, and financial woes have become all too real. In the midst of copious applications, I’ve come to one conclusion. This is the worst.

The very nature of scholarship applications breed discontent with oneself. They start off benign: What’s your name? Your birthday? Where do you go to school? Then they get demanding. What was your high school GPA? What clubs and sports were you involved in? Are you a leader, ARE YOU A LEADER?? SHOW US ALL OF YOUR AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS.

Sometimes I think I’m a fairly cool person. Then I’m forced to list everything that’s cool about me in the format of a 3-by-5 table on a Word document, and I feel significantly less impressive. Is that really all I do? Why aren’t I president of more things? I could’ve sworn I was a member of more things.

Now, let me tell you a little story. Once upon this January, I was in the middle of an intense application for a scholarship to study in London for 5 weeks and write. If the reward hadn’t been so fantastic, I never would have thrown myself into the intensive process that was this application. I downloaded a word document filled with endless things to be signed and boxes to be filled in, along with two page-long spaces in which to put my uniquely inspirational and beautifully-crafted essays. This was going to be a stretch. When I decided to apply, I was directed to a woman who worked in the International Fellowships office and she graciously helped me revise the junk that I sent to her in an attempt to make my application more competitive. She had a kind smile and never seemed to tire of my disorganized drafts.
Things were going well, until one night at about 2 in the morning when I realized I forgot to write an entire essay. My heart sank and my mind immediately wandered to thoughts of giving up. I mean, what are the chances I’ll actually get this? Two essays? That’s flirting with inhumanity. But romantic thoughts of penning my fabulous endeavors in London, (probably sipping tea with crumpets, maybe sporting a monocle, who knows) pushed me continue. I made the somber vow not to sleep until I finished the second essay. I hunched over my laptop, glared enviously at my sleeping roommates, and set to work.

Either 45 minutes or 3 hours later I had a pretty decent draft on the page. What started as confused ramblings somehow organized themselves into a semi-coherent piece with a point and everything. Exhausted but triumphant, I hit save and sent an email to my mentor. I fell asleep blissfully unaware of a grave mistake.

Like many great writers, (this is something I tell myself) I struggle with beginning things. I feel the need to wait until the most perfectly ingenious sentence comes to me straight from the mouth of God, and seeing as this never happens, I become irate with frustration when the words elude me. In a fit of 2-a.m-writer’s-block-irritation, I typed the first thing that came to mind to serve as a temporary introduction. I punched the caps lock key and wrote, “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I CAN NEVER START THESE THINGS.” I giggled as my fingers tapped the keys. Aren’t I amusing, I’ll change this later. Since, apparently, I can be a massive freaking idiot, I never edited out my little joke of an introduction. I didn’t notice until I received an edited version from my mentor the next day. The profanity was highlighted and the attached comment read “Consider an alternative intro”. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, so I rolled around on the floor for a bit emitting strange noises. I didn’t get that scholarship, but I think it was just because I’m not president of enough things.

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