At The Daily Beast, academics and writers were asked to name “one book that [college] students shouldn’t escape campus without having read.” MIT professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, Junot Diaz, picked Toni Morrison’s Beloved because it “stabs straight at the heart of the American experience,” but he also spoke to the role of books in the lives of college students generally:

All college students should have to read a couple hundred books before they graduate, […]

A couple hundred. I agree. If we teach college students, we are totally failing them if we’re not putting passionate and intensive reading front and center in our classes (talking about books, close reading passages, assigning lots of reading, etc.).

Close reading trains the eye and ear to what good sentences and paragraphs look and sound like, and so indirectly teaches writing as well. It also exercises one’s critical thinking “muscles,” and increases intellectual and cultural literacy. It contributes to everything that is centrally important to college.

I like the way Ben Yagoda starts Part I of his most recent book, How to Not Write Bad (Riverhead 2013). He titles Part I, “How to Not Write Bad: The One-Word Version,” and beneath the title puts before the reader a simple, four-letter word:


That’s it. Do it.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Read

  1. Staffan says:

    I loved Cain’s book. Especially interesting was her description of how America turned from introverted to extraverted. This transformation is probably related to the different waves of immigration: first the religious, then the adventurers.

    Reading is of course also a power of the introverts. Finland has the highest literacy in the world and may well be the most introverted nation as well. The Big Five doesn’t measure it properly so psychologists using that model fail to understand the importance of this trait.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      What about urbanization and the overwhelming invasion of electronic noise into modern culture? Piped-in music is everywhere, and you can’t even go to a gas station without encountering a screen at each pump. It’s not always easy to think or find solitude in America. And people are agitated, overweight, and restless. It’s all monkey mind, little Buddha calm.

      • Staffan says:

        I’m not sure it affects your personality that much although it’s no doubt stressful. Nothing new though. I believe the poet Horace went back and forth between Rome and his country place saying that the country side was better for him but that he couldn’t stay away from the big city and its attractions. But the modern environment is increasingly noisy as everyone is trying to get your attention and sell you something. Some say that schizophrenia, a condition more common among introverts, was a very rare phenomenon until urbanization. So at some point it may become too much and perhaps the introverted person will be the first to get sensory overload. After all, this trait of extraversion and introversion is thought to be a matter of optimal arousal; extraverts craving more stimulus and introverts less.

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