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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Want to learn how to read a challenging book? It’s as simple as baking pie

When it comes to famous objects of high culture and human achievement, like the Mona Lisa or the Colosseum, we accept that knowledge and recognition of their images sometimes comes at an unavoidable distance. We may not quite understand the magnitude of the pyramids unless we are standing directly next to them, preferably while accompanied by a camel.  


But postcards, photographs and textbooks can still extract a reaction from us. Most of us can agree that ""construction detail"" was probably one of the last things slaves in Ancient Egypt wanted to find on their ""to-do"" papyrus.  


What strikes me as interesting is that we've begun to take this approach with intimidating pieces of literature and theory. Readers can name the author of ""Ulysses."" Many are probably very familiar with the outline of the plot and its' characters. We know that Plato wrote about caves and that Nietzsche was immune to most happy things, like kittens.  


But I'm not sure who started the rumor that it's not polite to touch. Our literary wonders of the world, unlike so many of our physical ones, aren't going to crumble from too much handling. You can get up close and personal with the late greats free from all glass, railings, and the disapproving stares of punned-out tour guides.  


I understand that encouraging a student to find time to read outside the demands of a semester is relatively equivalent to congratulating someone for finishing a marathon—pointing down the street and asking if they'd maybe want to do a triathlon later—except this time they'll be in snowshoes, while battling a mean case of dysentery and a pack of sleep deprived bears. Or something.  


However, college courses have taught us the art of applying multi-tasking to reading. If you muse over a few pages of difficult reading on the bus or before class or on a Saturday, you can accept confusion in humble, digestible bites. Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, great, intimidating pieces of literature are going to be around.  


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Reading difficult pieces of literature can be a life-long task. You shouldn't feel bad if it takes years to tackle Foucault, or that you put it aside sometimes for Dave Eggers. But we also need to keep them from being treated like hand-held museums.  


It can be annoying for an author (a presumably pretentious and quite hairy European male) to make you question if your brain is really an advanced bodily organ or perhaps just a soggy omelette. But as you mature, so will your reading and understandings of difficult literature. You can reread as often and at any pace you desire.  


So despite preconceptions affixed to great titles, reading them can be compared to learning to hone ordinary skills, like learning to ride a bike or tap dance. Or better yet. It's like learning to bake really good pie. You keep trying it until it's the kind of pie you want, and in the mean time, you just get to keep eating pie.

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