Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on March 6, 2009


typewriter          Well, I should probably start today’s lesson with a slight disclaimer – I’m having an undeniably strange day.  Last night, I woke up screaming from a nightmare where Michael Dukakis, no joke, was trying to kill me.  Now, I haven’t had a nightmare since 1999, and I haven’t given Michael Dukakis much serious thought since George Bush the Elder was sworn into office ten years earlier than that – but that’s not all.  This morning, I started crying in the gym while I was lifting weights because I got all choked up with happiness about a random episode of the incredibly geeky Battlestar Galactica that I happened to watch earlier in the day while I was eating breakfast – and I had to go hide for a few minutes in the locker room!  Literally, and it might have something to do with the incredibly intense Jeopardy study sessions that I’ve been undertaking for the last few weeks, my emotions are cycling faster than Charlie’s during the scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where he’s eating the steak in preparation for his underground street-fight.  Now, I suppose this phenomenon could be a case of the normal spring fever I always feel as spring break approaches, or I suppose it’s also possible that some evil hobbit has switched out my multi-vitamins with Sweet Dee’s fictional steroid, “Mucho Macho.” Regardless, it feels like my cerebellum is on Batman, The Ride! at Six-Flags.

charlie          So, maybe I’m hallucinating – and because I don’t want to embarrass anybody, I’ll leave this anonymous – but I just read two business school admissions essays from a couple of GMAT students (I have a couple dozen in my total stack – so again, this is anonymous) that I swear were written by fourth-graders.  I mean, they were terrible, and full of the misspelled words, incomplete sentences, and horribly illogical phrasings that most of my classmates left behind when they graduated from Mrs. Butler’s class at Bennett Elementary school – and these essays were supposed to represent the polished writing of college graduates.  Keeping that in mind, forget everything else I’ve ever claimed was the number one problem with the college students of today (granted, the fact that college students don’t date and get wildly inebriated are still troublesome) – and focus on this truth: as undergraduates, you have got to start reading more – because it’s clear that that’s where the problem lies with these future business leaders of America whose essays I just completed grading.

twilight_book_cover           Listen to me when I say that there is absolutely no substitute for what reading can do for you intellectually and emotionally.  And despite my occupation as a teacher of classic literary fiction, I’m not talking about just reading Faulkner or Melville for class – or, as my good friend Matt advocated in his post a few weeks ago, James Joyce.  I’m saying that you need to crack open books in your spare time – I hear good things about Harry Potter and Twilight – and you need to read them, maybe even in lieu of doing your homework – because you’ve got to get into something where you begin concentrating on the story, where you find yourself losing track of time because of the pleasure you’re experiencing, and where you can allow your subconscious mind to process the way that the words in the English language are supposed to be put together.  Unless you read seriously (and by this I mean read things that are fun), and enjoy the process, you will never be able to write well.  And why is this important?  Well, despite the advancement of technology and the growing need in our country for science and math related laborers, in every profession you can possibly undertake, you need to be able to write down your findings clearly and logically – and you will never succeed very well in any profession unless you can do so.  Hell, even Jose Canseco was able to write a pretty good book – and his primary job was to take “Mucho Macho” and bash a baseball.

           Now, anybody who has read Dr. Wizard’s Advice to this point knows that I love television – and I think that the small screen is a wonderful venue for storytelling – but as Aristotle argues in the Nichomachean Ethics, “all things in moderation.”  There’s something about being forced to construct your own mental images that raises your ability to creatively problem solve and imagine new ways of processing information, and reading definitely is the one and only way to heighten your powers of lengthy concentration in a world where you are constantly bombarded with images meant to splinter your attention span.  In order for your brain to undergo this transformation back to its more powerful state, however, you’ve got to crack open the books – John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Stephen King – whatever works for you.  If you do this, I promise that you will be rewarded – on both the personal and professional scales of gratification.  Also, it will probably make you a better viewer of television, in that you’ll make more powerful and lasting associations with the story arcs of each series you watch.

girl-reading            Last year, the Scholastic Corporation released a study citing the fact that only 21 percent of students 17 and older thought that reading for fun was important.  This probably explains the fact that only 21 percent of Americans can write a simple business letter.  The problem is that people don’t think they like to read – which is mainly a by-product of teachers in my position quizzing them over Faulkner and James Joyce.  But there are a whole lot of reading options out there, and everybody can find something that will help them.  Still, as Hilary Clinton said, “it takes a village,” because as John Donne said, “no man is an island.”  You’ve got to help me in the revolution to reverse this non-reading trend.  So, your assignment for spring break is as follows: bring a few books with you to the beach.  Read one yourself, and pass the rest out to your friends.  There will still be plenty of time left over at the end of the day to drink margaritas and meet new co-eds at Club La Vila– in moderation.

3 Responses

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  1. Laura P said, on March 8, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Hi Mr. Webb. I agree a lot with most of this post, but Twilight, really? I mean, I guess 7th grade reading level is better than 4th grade, but maybe we can higher our expectations a little bit. That said, this is good message and congrats on jeopardy!

  2. Laura said, on March 9, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    I completely agree that everyone should read more and if Twilight is getting young girls to fall in love with reading than I shouldn’t be complaining. However, there was just an article in the Washington Post (citing the Chronicle of Higher Education) that stated the Twilight series are some of the most read books on college campuses. I’m not saying that a little escapism and entertainment is a bad thing (I am guilty of watching America’s Next Top Model on a regular basis), but eeek. Sometimes I feel that we keep either regressing or stay stagnate, not moving forward at all. Isn’t that what college is really all about, trying to actually learn something and not just reviewing things that we kind of already learned once in middle school.

  3. Avi said, on March 10, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I love reading books, I love finding new books to read. I already know all about how awesome books are, so I didn’t even read this lesson.

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