Read, read, read, read, and re-read

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Daniel Orazio, Commentary Editor

Perhaps because I’m the kind of editor who investigates other college newspapers at three in the morning (and by the way, the Grove City College Collegian just ran a fine piece on best-dressed professors), I’m also the kind of editor who looks through old issues of The University News for inspiration. Accordingly, there’s an article I’d like to commend to you all: an interview of Dr. Karl Maurer by RoseMary Johnson. It is a gem of a piece, and I don’t just say that because I’m a chauvinistic classics major who adores his beloved professor.

In the interview, which ran Feb. 24, 2009, Johnson asked Maurer what advice he had for students.

“Read, read, read, read, read books for once,” he answered. “Turn off the computer and read a book. Reading books is nothing but a habit, habits can be grown like plants, and this is the very best habit that you can grow.” Aside from the delightful phrasing, there’s nothing remarkable in that statement; you’ve probably received similar advice many times in your life. What’s remarkable is the arresting analogy that followed.

“I really think that everything that we’re doing at UD is sort of barren if we can’t grow that habit. Because otherwise, what we’re doing with this Core – it’s like, you know, a tour of Europe. Everybody takes a tour, they say, ‘Wow, what would our life have been if we hadn’t seen this!’ But it doesn’t change anything, it just sort of leaves some pretty memories that fade.”

I think that Dr. Maurer has (to use Mrs. Thatcher’s funny phrasing) hit the right nail on the head.

One can, as many do, go to Florence and admire the David, and to Vienna and take in an opera, then return stateside and make no effort to incorporate great art and music into one’s daily life. In the same vein, one can come to UD and read the Aeneid, the Ethics, and The Federalist Papers, then leave Irving, get a job and start a family, and not think again of pietas, eudaimonia or “the greatest of all reflections on human nature.”

Recollection of the principles of natural law is no different than recollection of the austere, wintry beauty of Prague’s Charles Bridge: It will grow faint as the years pass and it isn’t refreshed. Lifelong learning is the only reliable learning.

Growing the habit of reading is so important because reading keeps you learning. It also keeps you mentally sharp, which is important, because when you cease to read you don’t simply forget bits of fact, your ability to think and comprehend withers too. We all know people endowed with great gifts – intellectual, artistic, musical – who no longer make use of their talents. There’s a sadness to these people; why be like them?

There are of course good reasons why people might cease to read and think after college in the way they did while in college. The demands of work and children can get in the way. These obligations certainly take priority over re-reading a favorite book.

But I fear there may be a more insidious underlying cause for much of the intellectual inertia that afflicts adults: They never really loved what they were studying when they were studying it.

I once heard another arresting analogy. It was suggested to me that many people look at poetry, as the example went, the way they do religion, with the classroom as Sunday Mass. Poetry and religion are “important,” but basically a bore. People say that they love these things and want to learn all about them, but really they don’t. Once class is dismissed, or Mass lets out, they leave and give it no further thought till the next class period, or the next Sunday.

This compartmentalization seems to me the death of one’s intellectual or spiritual life. What is the point of taking the Core, if not to ingest food for thought that will last a lifetime? Why go to church on Sunday, if not to know how to live that and every other day of the week?

So, reader, you know what to do; in fact, you’re already doing it:

Read, read, read, read, read.

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