Reading, a lost art

By Allegra Tepper

Eleven books sit by my bed, commiserating about their untouched second halves, unappreciated epilogues and unacknowledged climaxes. I promise I had good intentions with every last one of them.

Some of them are the tougher ones to get through, the books I know I must read as part of my intellectual adolescence (“Lolita”) and others are just the guilty pleasure memoirs (“Teenage Hipster in the Modern World”). Nabokov or not, the story’s always the same—I, quite shamefully, rarely reach the end of a book if it won’t end with an analytical essay.

It’s been a certain looming thought of mine since bedtimes were replaced by falling asleep with the lights on with that beloved, colossal Civics textbook weighing down on my chest. I was a member of Book Bistro, a short-lived club, and an intimate one at that. Since then, I’ve become guilty of this very phenomenon, a carrier of the disease. Allow me to be plain: here we are at Harvard-Westlake, widely regarded as premier academia, and yet, no one reads.

Now before you reject the thought, peering over at the grossly annotated “Beloved” sitting beside you, think about the last time you read a book, simply for the sake of enjoying the text and nothing more. I pray that it falls within the semester, but I fear that simply isn’t the case for the greater majority of the student body.

President Thomas Hudnut begins each school year telling parents and faculty about the incredible novels he read this summer. It puts parents at ease, even excites them that their students are in such worthy hands. But somehow, we kids aren’t inspired in the same way. How can we be led by such a thirsty intellect and not feed off of that energy?

Spanish teacher Javier Zaragoza brought this troubling thought up in a class, fearful that the flame of intellectual vitality of his students has withered away to a mere flicker.

He fears the clear diminution in students without a drive beyond the grade book can only be attributed to the post-modern revolution that is “Mytweetface.” Every great civilization faces its downfall, he said; Rome did, and now so will we.

I have no intentions of being melodramatic; however, that doesn’t erase the memory of a panic, along with many of my classmates, when presented with the question, “What books have you read outside of required reading in the last year?”

It only makes sense that students applying to these intellectual communities would have a literary repertoire and a natural desire to expand it. But no.

The easy, self-indulgent appeal would be for less work so that we could read for personal interests, not just academic pursuits. Perhaps English classes could assign students to read books of their choice and it would reignite the flame.

So what do I want you to take away from this? No, I don’t want the underclassmen to begin their scrambling a Hemingway anthology to round out their college applications. It’s about a thirst for intellectual stimulation. If we all leave Harvard-Westlake having read little outside our curriculum, I fear we’ll be academic clones.

As for me, I will give each of those cobwebbed novels attention because I’ll get the joy and freedom of intellectual stimulation we all deserve and need.

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