I was a zoology major in college, and as a result took a lot of science classes. I minored in chemistry and psychology. While I was still in high school, I took the CLEP test, which gives you college credit for certain basic courses if you score high enough. I “CLEPped” out of English 101 and 102, botany, sociology, college algebra, art and music appreciation, and a couple of other things I can’t remember. I got 30 hours of credit – basically, my entire freshman year.
The point is, I never had to take freshman English or humanities classes. I did take English lit, from which I only remember reading The Canterbury Tales. I also took Short Story, which I don’t remember anything from
So many books, so little time
except that it was ridiculously easy.
I could have graduated a year early as a result of the 30 hours of credit, but I didn’t. I just took extra science and psych classes.
This never caused me any problem until I started working in a library. A lot of the students who come to us are working on papers in English and humanities. Most of them are taking the classes because they’re required; they wouldn’t have taken them otherwise. (Many of them don’t appreciate the college’s attempt to make them “well-rounded” people. A 40-year-old nursing student taking literature said to me, “What the h*** do I need to know about Kate Chopin?? I’m 40 years old. I’m as well-rounded as I’m going to get.” I could only sympathize.) The problems arise because I have never heard of most of the literature or art that the students are assigned. For instance, do you know who Kate Chopin was? I didn’t. Never heard of her. (She wrote feminist short stories in the late 1800’s. Who knew.)
My lack of basic literary knowledge has forced me to learn on the job. (See, now I know who Kate Chopin was.) It has also encouraged me to catch up, so to speak. I haven’t read anything by Kate Chopin, but I have been reading some of the classics that I missed along the way. I even read War and Peace. Don’t laugh – it was actually pretty good.
Because War and Peace was much more readable than I expected, I decided to tackle Anna Karenina. Some Best Books Ever lists have placed it at the top. I signed up with a service called DailyLit to get segments of the book delivered to my email, which amounts to about 1/2 chapter per day, Monday through Friday. Doing it that way, there are 430 segments to be read. It is taking more than a year, but it’s a very painless way to read a long book.
Noooooo, not another chapter about farming in Russia
Or, I should say, almost painless. Anna Karenina is nothing like War and Peace. Oh my goodness. The action in War and Peace moved along at a pretty good pace. (It was a bit of a history lesson too; I didn’t know anything about the Napoleonic Wars. Turns out there are a lot of things I don’t know anything about.) Anna K. drags on and on and on. Tolstoy will suddenly branch off into a discussion of Russian farming theory, or Italian art, that have absolutely nothing to do with the main story. I am starting to think that this entire book could have been condensed into two separate short stories, one about Anna and one about Levin. All of the superfluous stuff could have been dumped very easily.
I was telling one of our English instructors about it, and he agreed – and said that he never would put Anna K. at the top of any Best Book list. Now he tells me.
If you’re going to get caught up with your reading of classical literature, be sure to include War and Peace. And definitely skip Anna Karenina.