My last Saturday evening was spent trying, and failing, to translate part of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” However, as I started to grasp some of the Latin I realized something: that I’ve read this before. The truth is, in middle school I read condensed versions of Greco-Roman myths, in high school I read the translations of Ovid and in college I’m translating Ovid myself. This is a really cool concept because I now get to interact with this text on its most fundamental level. Not only am I fostering an appreciation of its story, but also its lyrical, poetic and historical contexts.
As a humanities/soft-science person I encounter a lot of reading. Though I may not succeed, I always try to finish working with the material. Not just skimming it. Not just reading it. Working with it. I write in the margins, pose counterarguments and analyze rhetoric. I try to actively engage with each piece so I don’t become a dustbin of information. The point of reading is, after all, to engage in that great Western dialogue.
That is what I find so disappointing about people who choose not to read. Many of the texts presented in classes, particularly freshman and sophomore humanities classes, are the very foundations of Western culture. They’re not musty old tomes relegated to the past. They’re timeless because their ideas are timeless. The ideas presented still impact the world today. Many of the books we’re asked to read constitute the core ideas of Western thought and the perfection of medicine, philosophy, politics, art, poetry, music, math and science. They represent authors communicating across centuries, countries and cultures.
It’s humbling to know that as elite individuals, as all Stanford students are, we’re invited to participate in this classic conversation. We are asked to study, evaluate and eventually weigh in on this great Western society. Although your paper may not seem important now, it’s your first foray into the world of ideas. Most people end up shrinking away from it. We end up mailing in half-baked essays with half-baked ideas, settling for the eternal B. We don’t necessarily realize that each book we read, and each idea we cultivate, can bring us closer to adding to our society in a meaningful way. So I’ll say, do your reading. It’ll add up in the end.