Wednesday 13 June 2012

Catching Up On My Reading

When I went to university, I took a degree in the humanities, studying religion, philosophy, literature, history and the classics.  I enjoyed it a lot (despite the lack of job practicality) but there was a lot of material to cover.  Sadly, being a typical university student, I had other important claims on my time like watching Star Trek and Buffy, hitting the on-campus pub and spending time with my friends.

This may come as a shock but sometimes I did not do the required reading.  I'll pause for all of you to gasp in horror.  At the time I felt a vague sense of guilt but not enough to actually do anything about it.

Looking back, I'm of a more forgiving mind.  The requirements were impossible.  At the time, we figured out we would have to read over 600 pages a day to keep up, no holidays, no breaks.  That's one half of the problem.  The other half was that the books themselves were often so boring and badly written that they defied imagination.  The material itself was interesting ... just not the writing.

I still have those dozens of volumes from my school days.  Lately I've been looking at them and thinking I should give reading them another shot.  After all, I paid for my education.  Shouldn't I have read the books that went with it?  Besides, perhaps the books wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't having to rush through them.  If I took my time to really absorb what was in them, my brain might not check out in self-preservation.

The answer is: yes, most of them are really that bad.  Right now I'm reading one which covers the history of scientific thought, views on how various cultures through history have understood the natural world.  It's right up my alley, looking at different cultures and different perceptions.  But it's so densely and dryly written that I can only read three or four pages before my eyes start rolling and I start falling asleep from boredom.

Why on earth do academic works have to suck the interesting out of their subjects?  I remember one of my professors dismissing a book as "nothing but pop-history" when it came out.  Someone asked if it distorted the facts or mislead the reader to create drama and the professor replied that it didn't but it had none of the dignity of a true academic work, being "written-down" to appeal to the common folk. 

Why shouldn't history, literature and everything else be accessible to everyone?  Personally, I think it comes down to snobbery.  People like to feel better than those around them and if you're smart, then you can rub other people's noses in the fact that you understand something they don't.  But all it does is create a distrust in knowledge and a belief that these things don't really apply to everyday life.

I'm a democratic knowledge-distributor.  I think everyone has the right to understand how we've gotten here, to this society in this time.  It's one of the reasons I love fantasy and science-fiction, for their ability to bring things to light in a way people welcome.

Meanwhile, at least I have something which helps me sleep.

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