Schools and Books

I find myself in a dilemma. One of the goals of my blog is provide some insights into my experience of trying to go into a creative-writing MFA program. It would follow that I would post about the specific schools I am considering. However, it occurs to me that it might not be in my best interest to be too public about who I am considering. I think about this only because it feels like blogging openly about looking for a job. Potential employers may be turned off by seeing who they are competing against–or that they’re even competing against anyone.

I have just joined a Facebook group in which we are helping each other in this process, and we talk about specific schools a lot. However, I would like my blog to become a resource on this subject, as well. I think I will need some guidance to determine how much about my “top-secret list” I should divulge here.

Today was also a splurge day. I took my self to Magers & Quinn, a local bookstore. They keep racks of deeply discounted books outside the store. I can pick up five or ten books for under ten bucks. Today’s selection forced me to hold myself back. I don’t have much money, and so I try to only splurge this way once every couple of months. (Besides, I have run out of bookshelf space.) Amongst my book purchases today were:

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful by Alan Paton

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

As well as some lesser-known novels that looked appealing, and some short-story collections.

You would think, with my book-buying habits and my overflowing bookcase, that I am a voracious reader. Alas, I am not, but it is not for lack of desire or effort. My trouble is that I am a slow reader. I never knew that I was a slow reader until a year or two ago. There was some online test making the rounds that determined your reading speed and comprehension. Most of my friends read at the rate of a sophomore in college. I read at the rate of an eighth grader. My greatest salvation was that I did not finish my philosophy degree and move on to a philosophy PhD. Had I done so, I would have drowned in my very first week, as a philosophy grad student typically reads about 1,000 pages a week of the densest, most challenging and difficult material you can imagine.

All of this brings up three questions:

Why am I such a slow reader? I know exactly what the problem is. I know that fast readers have developed their reading skills past the point where they are narrating the text to themselves inside their heads. They absorb content without necessarily reading every single word. They are master skimmers, and have great retention in doing so. I never got to that level.

Why don’t I work to improve my reading speed? It’s simply because I enjoy my inner narrator. I like playing a book in my mind as if it were a movie. I like assigning voices to the characters. I love luxuriating in detail. I could learn to read faster, with effort and guidance, but I think reading would be less enjoyable, and to be robbed of the joy of reading…. I can’t even imagine.

There is a price I pay for my slower reading rate, of course: I can’t possibly read everything I want to. I accumulate more books than I’m ever going to be able to read.

Why am I collecting books I’m never going to read? When I purchase a book, I have no idea for certain whether it is a book I will ever read or not. I purchase based on whether I am likely to read a book. I am also focusing more on obtaining books that will help me in my career. My gigantic volume of the complete works of Shakespeare? I’m never going to read that cover-to-cover, but it will be invaluable once I am teaching lit classes. Plus, I got it at the annual book swap my friends and I have, so I didn’t even have to pay for it.

There is also, though, a deeper and more personal reason why I have all the books I do. I have lost my entire personal library at least three times in my life. This was owing to difficult situations, both mine and those close to me. I’ve had my entire library end up in the landfill before. Every time I lost my library, I grew more tenacious in holding on to the books I had.

The funny this is that, unless I end up at the University of Minnesota (oops, did I tip my hand there?), I will be giving away a chunk of my library. Even if I take advantage of book-rate shipping, I will not be able to keep them all. But, as I alluded to earlier, I don’t yet know what I will keep and what I will give away (no way is anything going into the landfill this time). But I am grateful for all I have, and read as much as I can when I can.


About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 26 February, 2013, in MFA, Personal life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I loved why you don’t try to become a faster reader. Those are great reasons! Also, why be like everyone else? You probably will get more out of the stories than the skimmers.
    I also take my time. Part is due to being interrupted often by my hubby or son, part because I have some memory problems & have to re-read sentences often. This wasn’t always the case. These memory problems were always there, but haven’t affected reading til the past few years.
    I don’t know if you saw ‘The Shipping News’ w/Kevin Spacey, but it’s an intense story. I would love, when you’ve read it, to see you post a book review.
    Colleges are businesses. A little competition wouldn’t hurt you. I don’t think discussing the reasons you are interested in a few certain colleges w

  2. Sorry I did something where I couldn’t continue w/my comment. I was saying I don’t think discussing why you are interested in a few schools will hurt you. They’ve got recruiters for a reason!
    Good post!

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