Six (of many) Great Things About Majoring in English

 In honor of the first week of classes at Notre Dame, a tribute to my beloved area of study:

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  1. Everyone* in class wants to be there. English majors have often defied the wishes of their parents, chosen happiness over financial gain, and accepted a murky professional future over a straightforward one in order to be in that classroom. The result? People who all (a) read the book, (b) have a lot to say about the book, and (c) come together to create a stimulating discussion.

                               *Except for that person who ended up in Jane Austen class through some scheduling freak-accident.  He will play Words With Friends on his iPad all semester long.

Stock photo of random classroom that essentially encapsulates the English class vibe
Stock photo of random classroom that more or less encapsulates the English class vibe

2. Student camaraderie. “You didn’t start the paper?” “Me either.” “Want to get coffee and edit each others’?” “Um, yes please.”

English majors are in it together. There is no curve, and thus no reason to be competitive or delight in classmates’ failure. We unite in our love of books and reading, but also in our procrastination problems and hate for our professor’s pseudo-British accent and hopelessly ambiguous writing prompts.

If I calculated how much money I spent at Starbs that could have been spent on new books... but I don't have to do math anymore so whatever
Perhaps if I were a math major I would be able to calculate ways to buy less coffee and then save that money for more books…
  1. Cheap books. The most expensive thing an English major will ever have to buy is a $50 used Norton Anthology. Most of the time one has to acquire about five, ten-dollar books and the prof will email you the rest in PDF docs (that is, if this particular literary great happens to be one of the few who understands computers. The majority will come to class bearing stacks of warm print-outs.)

    Lot of this action
    Lot of this action in my backpack
  1. Job applications are a breeze. Writing cover letters is second nature, and English majors come across extremely well on paper. Now, if only you can be equally charming during the interview….
  1. Homework = reading novels and poems. And writing about them. If you are passionate about reading and writing, this can hardly be classified as work. I would be reading and writing anyway, and though I’d prefer there were no due dates or grades (or that I were perusing Harry Potter for the tenth time instead of struggling through Beowulf in Old English), nothing feels better than acing a paper I worked hard on (ahem – slaved over, sacrificing sleep, coffee money, party time…).

    Ahh Beowulf. Where it all began. (Theoretically, I should be able to "read" this by the end of the semester.)
    Beowulf, i.e. where written English began. And now we’re adding words like “amazeballs” and “mansplain” to the OED.
  1. Subjective grading. In contrast to a Calculus test, for example, when an A indicates that you correctly recreated another person’s discovery, an A on an English paper signifies your individual brilliance (at least this is what I tell myself). It distinguishes thoughts that are spot-on, well-organized, and creative enough to impress someone with a PhD in English. And in cases of sub-par papers (and cool professors), there is typically some opportunity to rewrite it or argue for a better grade.
    Such praise leaves me feeling as awesome as if I had been asked out by Matt Duchene (well, almost)
    Nothing quite like a few lines of barely-legible professor praise

     

    In conclusion, a word from P.G. Wodehouse:

    “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.”

“A Book Blog, Liz?” Let Me Explain

Throughout the (almost) twenty-one years I have been able to speak, I have confidently asserted a variety of future plans.

“I’m going to be an artist,” my five-year-old self declared to inquiring adults, proffering pictures of family members with potato bodies, toothpick limbs, and impossibly wide smiles.

Aspiring artist at work
Aspiring artist at work

This was followed by a fifteen year period of “I’m going to be doctor,” which I stubbornly insisted upon despite a variety of red flags (including a very real phobia of puking people).

It was only during my first semester of college as a pre-med student that I recognized my folly, surreptitiously skipping many a chemistry class in order to dedicate my efforts to a required lit seminar: “Shakespeare’s Major Tragedies.”

The moment of recognition went something like this: “Shit. There won’t be any lit classes in med school.”

***

As far back as my memory reaches, books have been an essential part of my existence. Even as an illiterate toddler I carried around piles of books and “read” by reciting the story from memory. (Shout out to my dad for putting in long hours reading through the pile as part of my bedtime ritual.)

Evaluating multiculturalism and postmodernism in Sesame Street
Searching for postmodern themes in Sesame Street

I began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in first grade and finished the final words of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the summer before eighth grade (the day it came out, obviously). In the interim, I devoured all varieties of fiction, including the timeless stories of Roald Dahl, the tales of the resourceful feminist Nancy Drew, the blatantly Catholic Chronicles of Narnia, the youth-friendly murder mysteries of Marry Higgins Clark, the obligatory Twilight Saga, and anything and everything by resident boy-expert, Meg Cabot.

With less time to read in high school, I prioritized homework from English class over Calculus and packed as much reading into my summers as possible. One summer I spent an entire month on Jane Eyre and felt hugely accomplished as I crossed out the title on my stained and wrinkled “101 classics to read” list. I then immediately turned to the inviting pink jacket of Tina Fey’s Bossypants to decompress.

Will not be re-reading anytime soon
Will not be re-reading anytime soon

Now an English major at Notre Dame, my love for books has deepened in the company of brilliant professors, visionary authors, and most of all, talented and thoughtful fellow students. I love every minute of it – okay, except for 4am when I’ve already had 5 coffees and I would rather be talking to people, watching reruns of The Office, or sleeping than railing on Kate Chopin’s misogynistic contemporary critics for 10 double-spaced pages.

***

I almost feel physically uncomfortable without a book nearby. I carry books like some people carry miniature purse dogs – a faithful companion for waiting rooms and car rides; a respite from boredom and monotony; a dependable conversation-starter for awkward social moments.

I have a tendency to take my current read to places where I know I’ll never have a chance to open it, like the Starbucks drive-through, my job at Dean Younce Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, and the library cubicle where I’m supposed to be uber-focused on studying for finals. It’s borderline compulsive.

Today's purse dog
Today’s purse dog

Essentially, this blog is an opportunity to reevaluate, revel in, and share my books. With plans to work in the editing and publishing realm of productive society one day, it will be valuable to practice reviewing books. And though I claim only a nominal understanding of this blogging platform and a limited arsenal of life-experience and material as a twenty-year-old college student, I am giddily excited to start nerding out about books on the internet.