My personal summer reading list exists in the form of a haphazard stack of used books I ambitiously ordered online in the midst of a quarter-life crisis.
College is making me dumb – I’m positive. It’s the culture. Nothing is expected of me. After a semester of scrutinizing syllabi and assiduously dissecting daily reading, I paused to reflect on a few things.
A 4.0 is a 4.0 whether I highlight every line of the textbook, or skim the pirated study guide an hour before the exam. I was no longer rewarded with shiny trophies to glorify my motivation. Call me conceited or cocky or idiotic. I was burned out and I had an epiphany – I could take a motivation vacation. So I stopped trying. I nestled in the whorehouse of mediocrity.
Settling into my first-class seat two years ago on the plane that is college (purely metaphorically – East Lansing is an hour drive from my house), at such high altitudes I developed a palate for selfishness, laziness, destructive priorities, oddly accepted and encouraged inconsistencies and exerting the minimal effort possible to achieve what would satisfy my dwindling craving for second-rate success. When you idly stir these traits together, add a dash of self-realization and proceed to turn on the blender, you end up pouring a hearty quarter-life crisis into the dirty cup you stole from the cafeteria. Stick a straw in THAT.
There I was. A seemingly obvious statement, but again, I paused. I had a lot of theories about time, about people, about religion and politics and the dynamics of perception. Did I resent idle potential or just working hard in general? I aced accelerated physics at 17. Now I was struggling to find the drive to even open a textbook to study for my final exams.
What I did know is I was falling fast. I wanted to be smart again. Reading, we’re taught, is the gateway to intelligence. Once upon a time I read a book a week, but it no longer fit in my schedule between painting my nails and choking down seven shots of Burnett’s before stumbling to that frat party. ‘I must start reading again,’ I thought, ‘and this guilt will subside. I will be an intellectual!’
Too lazy to walk to the bookstore (it’s so farrrrrr), I lay in bed and Googled my way to a new beginning. I ordered American and Greek classics, NY Times bestsellers, quirky novels that Starbucks hipsters hold in the hand opposite a latte, philosophical manuscripts, gender analyses and critiques of modern society.
My electronic cart bragged of Hemingway, Joseph Heller, Tom Robbins, Aristotle and Homer. It boasted Eggers, Eugenides, Nietzsche, Salinger, Dickens, Jonathan Safaran Foer and Alexandre Dumas. It was far superior to any other collection of well rounded and respected but diverse compilation of books that would formulate the most ideal and beneficial of all summer reading lists that had come before it.
I was elated. I was ready to TRY. Try in the sense that I would read these novels poolside in huge designer sunglasses, attracting only the guys who could make a witty comment about the author because they cheated on the test when the same book was assigned in their English class.
The prescription for my demise arrived two weeks later in a broken cardboard box with a note from the postmaster informing me that my package had exploded in transfer and most items were probably recovered. A foreshadow of disaster, you say? I think it would take more than a bad tape job to throw me from my quest.
Flinging Cosmo and Esquire magazines from the bookshelf in my apartment, I hurriedly unpacked the contents of the undeserving parcel and cast them upon one another in place of the unfit literature. The worn look of ‘gently used’ gave them an air of experience. The dog-eared pages were evidence of repute without arrogance. The more pertinent titles intuitively jutted out slightly in contrast to the last minute indulgence buys. They weren’t stacked too neatly, of course. I didn’t want to look like a snob.
I salivated at the thought of reading such highly esteemed prose. I stared at the shelf. It looked like the bookshelf of a READER. I could impress my houseguests by nonchalantly suggesting they borrow a book from my collection (carelessly gesturing to the shelf with a lackadaisical wave of my arm) if they were craving a deep thought or two. But remove one book to read it and risk ruining the OBVIOUS PERFECTION OF THE STACK? I couldn’t mess up an opportunity like that.
No way I’m moving even one of those books. Absolutely not. It would be counterproductive to look like an idiot. I’d end up missing that ONE book necessary to a superlative bookshelf in the eyes of the viewer. I don’t need to read to be smart. What was I thinking? I can do other things if I’m yearning for a little knowledge. I’ll just have to start out next semester strong by reading the class syllabus.
I’ll highlight it, too.