Real Back to School Reading Prep

Everywhere around me, I see it happening. One by one, the young among us are dropping like flies, going back to school. Even I will be heading to graduate school soon, because when faced with entering the “real world” and quitting academia cold turkey, I just couldn’t quite do it. It’s all I know.

With my many years of experience, I’ve learned that you definitely have to change your reading habits and expectations during the school year. So I’ve picked out some books and reading habits that can help you readjust to the rigors of class-assigned reading. Some of these may seem strange or non-conventional to an outsider but remember, Grad student here; I know what I’m doing.


H.P. Lovecraft: While I’ve yet to come across a class that makes this famous old horror writer required reading, I can’t think of a man who acts as a better representation of most all the books you’ll have to read for school. You start out reading him, and he’s an old white guy with kind of dense and dated language. It’s no worse than you’d expect from an early 20th century writer though, and people say he’s really amazing, that he put words and ideas down in a way no one had before him, inventing the cosmic horror genre. Also, his stories do an excellent job of approximating the all-consuming horror you feel when faced with an average night’s worth of assigned reading.

Then you find out, boy howdy he was ridiculously racist. Immigrants terrified him almost as much as giant squid gods and he wrote a poem called “On the Creation of N——” That is about as bad as you could imagine. How are you supposed to reconcile this extreme prejudice with how revered he is today in many literary circles? Well, when you find the answer to that question, there’s hundred more long dead white guys from your required reading list waiting for you to answer the same queries about them.

A Phone Book: I know it’ll be difficult to find one in this day and age, but then again so are some textbooks. It doesn’t have to be an up to date one or even one for your area. Just pick a phone book and attempt to read it, cover to cover. Don’t forget to take notes! This will all be on the test, after all. You are required to try and read through this dull and endless list of names with intense and thoughtful rigor until your brain drips out your ears and life has no meaning. Words have no meaning. Are these words, these splotches on the page? I swear they once seemed so simple and boring but now I can’t even make out what they are anymore. Where’s the coffee? I need it to live. This is the quickest way to simulate midterms and finals week.

This exercise also happens to be a very useful empathizing tool for people who have not been to college, or graduated way too long ago and seem to think that all college students do is party and get black-out drunk. Try to make your way through a whole phone book in one night yourself and you just might wish for the sweet release of SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS! Or perhaps a good book and some tea, if that’s more your speed.

Certain Poetry: As an English major, a grad student, and an occasional poet on top of all that, I’m really not sure I’m supposed to admit this, but I will as it serves this back to school exercise too well to ignore. Sometimes, in certain genres poets can be freaking ridiculous. This is many people’s main criticism of poetry, that poets apparently wrote like they never imagined another human being would have to decode their words to get at the sentiment. I find that the more poetry you read, the less this is true, in most cases. I’m still pretty sure that one professor who made me read a Gertrude Stein poem as an undergraduate was punishing the class for some unknown reason.

Yeah, go read Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and get ready to sit in a discussion like you actually understand what’s going on. Write a 1,000 word paper on it. Oops, okay, now I’m really just asking you to do my homework for me, got a bit too transparent there. Pretty, pretty please guys? I have no idea what she’s saying. Being a graduate student is too hard!

There. You’ll be ready to start up school again in no time, and I’ll be waiting for you to copy and paste my homework into the comments below. Many thanks.


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