Tuesday, June 16, 2009

how grad-school made me stupid

i will say it and say it again, that i believe in the power of stories. that narrative is important. that fiction can be more truthful than non fiction. but sadly, i havn't read a novel in years. since i finished grad school a month ago, i've started and cast aside 3 novels. i just can't stick with a good long book any more.
my first thought was that i might blame the last 10 years i've spent in higher education. i've been trained (and become highly skilled) at plowing through texts, at writing book reviews on books i didn't have time to read, at getting to what the author is saying without noting their every word. the act of reading a story requires something different of the reader- to submit to the text and be guided by the intentional sequence of events- quite literally, to undergo it. i have become impatient and somewhat utilitarian with books.
another thought came after reading an interview in the sun magazine with the fella who wrote the provocative atlantic article "is google making us stupid?" last summer. he believes that the "distracted nature of web surfing, is reducing our capacity for deep contemplation and reflection." he realized that after years of "online information gathering, he had trouble reading a book..." hmmm, says i. sounds like me. one of the things he notes in the interview is that online activity exercises the part of the brain that is the realm of decision making- an activity which is mentally exhausting in comparison to the mental energy used in reading a book or in contemplation.
so this is my lament. my brain has been re-wired by grad-school and the world wide web. the process of Re-Re-wiring must begin as soon as this internet connection is no longer available!


Longbrake said...


I want more writing from Phil Nellis.

Kj said...

hmm...this has not been true for me. Grad school has helped me read better and deeper.

but the decision making part of the brain-thing has me thinking. its an interesting dichotomy.

Also what helped me was in 2007 i started keeping a non-school book in the bathroom, so i'm always reading fiction or non-school-non-fiction- the intertextuality has been helpful.

all the same- i like your wonderings

brownbird said...

I would suggest reading some kids fiction. Maybe there is less pressure- just relax and enjoy. Think of it as prereading for Sylas in a few years.
I would suggest Neil Gaiman Coraline or the Graveyard Book. I'm also into the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

Swift said...

When you do settle down and want a fantasy series that you can't put down - check out George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice & Fire" series. (but read it with your armor on - it is overly explicit at times)

elnellis said...

ha. thanks guys. interestingly, it is the fantasy genres that have drawn me in. and i do them best when i read them out loud with ruth. i'll look into those suggestions j-me and swift, thanks.
we did start the series "Abarat" by clive barker which is scheduled to be 5 books, the first two are out and the 3rd is due in the fall. highly recommended in fantasy/young adult genre.
and kj, i fully support bathroom literature- short stories and poetry... but it's those novels that kill me.

pedro said...

Brownbird beat me to it. Start with the stuff written for younger readers.

Reading is definitely mental exercise. You've learned to sprint in Grad school, but you need to build your endurance back up.

Fairy tales often deal with profound philosophical, existential, or cosmological questions, but ask them in a very approachable way.

Of course, I'm kinda stuck on the genre and would like to delve into some more "serious" literature. Let us know what you end up reading.

You could also pick up some well written historical or biographical nonfiction like The Making of the Atomic Bomb or The Making of Theodore Roosevelt. Both are great reads, deal with important eras of American history, are extremely well researched and written, and have earned Pulitzer prizes.

pedro said...

Sorry, that's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

Swift said...

If we catch you reading "Twilight"

joy said...

i completely agree with how you feel. this is where i find myself. i'm no longer the book worm and struggle to curl up to read a book... but hopefully this re-wiring can happen! it happened one way so why not back again.
here's to many good reads!

elnellis said...

glad to hear i'm not the only one, joy!
to many good reads, cheers.