I read the last page of every book before I even begin. I’d say I hate the suspense, but in the spirit of honesty, I confess that I cut straight to the end because there’s a good chance I’ll never make it there.
I’ve gotten through four chapters of the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.” I read enough of “Slaughterhouse-Five” to know it’s about war. “The Great Gatsby”? Half. But “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” takes the cake with a staggering 257 pages under my belt. And I genuinely love all four.
As Mark O’Connell expressed in a New Yorker blog post last year, he seems to suffer a similar condition. “I worry that perhaps it’s a symptom of some larger weakness of character or fatal atrophy of the intellect,” he wrote.
Before I get chastised for my literary apathy and irreverence for the canons, I’ll have you know that I am capable of reading a book from start to finish. But with a constant influx of titles, it doesn’t seem worth the commitment.
There is, however, at least one great book to which I remain wedded. This month, I celebrated its 70th birthday by reading it again, though I haven’t finished.
I received Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” as a gift on my 11th birthday. After the necessary tantrum that comes with getting a book for one’s 11th birthday, I devoured it in its intended order. It made me want to learn French, which I did, and it made me long to study in Paris, which I did.
I even made covert plans to get a tattoo of an image from the first chapter. It’s the outline of a boa constrictor with an elephant lodged in its abdomen. To adults, it resembles a hat. This misunderstanding forces the child protagonist to abandon his dream of becoming an artist in exchange for a more lucrative craft — the existential crisis of many a liberal arts student.
I sketched the image on my foot in Sharpie and walked around with it for weeks. When it started to look like a lumpy cane to me and a hat to everyone else, I abandoned the plan.
The birthday of “The Little Prince” coincides with Drop Everything and Read, a month-long celebration of, well, reading. From a cursory online search, I’ve deduced that the holiday is intended for children. But considering my literary tastes are wedged somewhere near the turn of the millennium, I figured participation extended to me.
A subsequent online perusal led me to “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” by Pierre Bayard — an ironic choice for the holiday at hand but a suitable one for “promiscuous” readers like myself, a label O’Connell picked for us fickle folk.
Non-reading seems a sacrilegious idea, particularly at an elite institution like Penn. But, as Bayard posits, the cultivated man must understand books “much as a railroad switchman should focus on the relations between trains — that is, their crossings and transfers — rather than the contents of any specific convoy.”
Call me a switchman. At a place where we have access to a seemingly endless stream of books, I accept that mine is a habit of privilege, but it may also be a generational one.
According to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, millennials make up a greater portion of book buyers and library lenders than their elder counterparts. But in an earlier Pew study, teachers noted that students have an increased tendency to skim.
As a member of a demographic enmeshed in the digital age, I consider my practice a sort of manual search engine. It’s an argument for breadth over depth, both of which are certainly of value in a generation that — statistically and to the bemusement of naysayers — likes to read, but also just likes to know.
Then again, maybe my crusade doesn’t hold water. Upon my rediscovery of “The Little Prince,” I called my 14-year-old brother and insisted that he pick it up. He scoffed. “A picture book?” We proceeded to talk Malcolm X, Slaughterhouse, Gatsby, Potter. I could hold my own so long as we didn’t talk about the endings. It turns out he had read all four in their entirety.
Nadine Zylberberg is a College senior from Boca Raton, Fla. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @nadine_zyl. “twentysomething” appears every other Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
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