How I (almost) ruined my liberal arts education by not so much as opening The Iliad
School was set to start in only a few days, so I finally sat down to read the Iliad. I got through the first page before I dozed off, but chalked it up to not sleeping enough the night before and tried again the next day.
This time, I got distracted by the Weather Channel.
“It’s okay,” I convinced myself upon realizing that move-in was the next day and I still hadn’t gotten past Book Two, “I’ll have all of NSOP to catch up before classes start.”
A week later, I was sitting in my bed twenty minutes before my first Lit Hum class, desperately reading the Wikipedia article on the Iliad because I’d run out of time to read the Sparknotes.
When I got to class, the room full of eager 18-year-old intellectuals all dying to discuss Homer at length that I had built up in my head was nowhere to be found, though my class did get fairly in depth with the text. I vowed to catch up that night, but two days later, I was back in class with a group of people whose knowledge of Homer’s epics varied directly with their motivation to read (and, in my case, the quality of the summaries on Sparknotes).
There was no excuse for my lack of reading: I had an entire summer to read the first half of the poem—and I hadn’t. So I counted the Iliad among the lost and sat down to read the Odyssey immediately upon returning to my room.
But five days later, I still hadn’t done the reading.
And then, three months later, when I went to the library with all of my Lit Hum books in tow, ready to buckle down and read just before the Lit Hum final, I ended up spending most of the day on Tumblr and eventually resorted to Sparknotes once again—taking extra care to read the “Important Quotations” from every book I hadn’t read. I didn’t fail the class, which only reaffirmed the same pro-procrastination, anti-work standards that I built up throughout high school.
So second semester began. Again, I fully intended to read everything cover to cover, only to discover that with a much heavier workload, this was impossible. Rather, I looked up summaries for some things, read others, picked and chose exactly which texts I wanted to read in their entirety and which texts I could afford to skimp on.
And you know what? I finally feel like I’m getting something out of the class.
First semester, I could babble on and on about Achilles’ hubris and not actually have much of a grasp on anything I was saying, but now I can actually carry on a conversation about Raskolnikov’s sanity (or lack thereof) and feel like I have a fairly well-backed up opinion on it rather than one patched together from summaries and my classmates’ comments. And I feel smarter for it. I haven’t reached the overly well-read insanity of Don Quixote, but nor do I feel like Sancho Panza, bumbling along behind.
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