Typically, the first year I live anywhere is a blur. It’s that unsettling year of confusion trying to find out how a place works and figuring out how to make a routine and friendships. The first and only year I lived in El Paso, Texas is an exception. I remember lots of things—the mountains and the view of Mexico from my bedroom window, the day we had to put our dog down, the afternoons I spent riding and grooming my horse Connie, and starting community college.
I remember when I was signing up for my classes in community college and my advisor sat me down, glanced at my high school records, and asked if I didn’t want to major in law instead of English. Essentially, why would anybody want to waste talent on studying a language they already speak? I was flattered at the remark on my previous grades, but I stuck with English anyway and breezed my way through my freshman year.
As the spring semester rolled around, my dad received orders to move to Germany. And I was determined that I would go along with my family. There was only one problem—my education. How would I manage to major in English in a non-English speaking country? After much consideration, and several changes of plans, I ended up attending Evangel University that fall.
And many more things changed.
I still majored in English but I also took up a minor in writing and joined Epiphany, the university’s literary magazine staff. But it didn’t take me long to learn that university life was much harder than community college. I panicked when I received my first D on an essay, and not for lack of trying. Having been used to getting all As, such a grade was an unheard of disaster. And while I adjusted to a new level of work, I never quite got used to the reading lists—there were so many readings lists for so many literature classes.
Sitting in British Literature one day, staring at the assigned texts for our course, I realized that I recognized most of the titles but had only ever read maybe one or two of them. And I was an English major! Looking at my friend and classmate, Faith, I said, “I feel like I’ve been living under a rock my whole life.”
Wasn’t I supposed to be a bookworm? How was it that twenty books for a college class should make me feel so ignorant? That semester passed, and the next, and the next. Now that I’m in grad school studying English literature, I still don’t think much has changed. Yes, I’ve read countless books in the past four years, but I’ve also learned that there is so much more to learn.
Studying English in my undergraduate gave me some of the basics, and majoring in English literature at a postgraduate level showed me there are even more things to learn, let alone read. I may have taken a class on Shakespeare, but I haven’t read all his plays. I have studied A Tale of Two Cities, The Faerie Queene, and The Great Gatsby, but I have yet to read Great Expectations, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, and 1984. And my to-be-read (TBR) list is ever growing.
Studying English has given me a mere sampling of the world’s literature. It’s shown me that learning is a continual process and that there’s more to being an English major than being a Grammar Nazi. (Which I’m not by the way. I don’t want hold people up to such standards when I can’t spell half the time.) And it’s like my mom used to say, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” I don’t have to feel like I’ve lived under a rock my whole life, basking in ignorance just because I had different experiences.
On the other hand, I’ve visited Israel with Sherlock Holmes in O, Jerusalem when I might never visit in person while turmoil continues. Through reading, I’ve seen fictional worlds such as Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts. I’ve even visited Mars within the pages of Out of the Silent Planet and A Princess of Mars.
So no, I haven’t lived under a rock my whole life, though sometimes it feels like it. There’s just more places to discover, more books to read, and less to take for granted—even the ordinary days when I’m at home with family and a shelf full of books.
Have you ever felt like you’ve lived under a rock when considering what you haven’t read? How many books are on your TBR list?
Literary references: Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, George Orwell’s 1984, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars.