I share with you three stories illustrating my apparent illiteracy:
One Thursday evening, despite initial plans of drinking, two friends (two Mikes!) and I ended up walking from Collegetown to Baker Lab (strange how that just happens to us chem majors). We found ourselves in the office of Professor Chad Lewis, who apparently hangs out in Baker writing grant proposals at midnight. When we shared our anxieties about applying to grad school and asked for advice, he told us to read more papers and joked (or maybe it wasn’t a joke), “All those kids from Harvard and MIT. What are they doing now? They’re not out wandering around campus. They’re reading papers.” Having been properly scared into thinking I was unprepared for grad school, the next day I found the most recent edition of JACS and quickly started opening articles in as many tabs as Google Chrome would allow. However, glancing through each abstract brought a small panic attack. Was I supposed to know anything about RNA encapsidation, or SAM-dependent enzymes, or human copper chaperones??? These papers are all about ridiculously specialized topics. How was I supposed to find anything I remotely understood, much less something that I found understandable AND interesting…. Despite three years of an Ivy League chemistry education, I still don’t know how to read a scientific paper.
Studying for the verbal section of the general GRE makes me feel illiterate. Seriously. Who uses words like “perfidious” and “opprobrium” and “intransigent” anyways?!?!
One of the authors I remember really enjoying reading in high school was J.D. Salinger. Recently, I picked up a copy of Franny and Zooey from the library to re-read. Salinger’s writing style and syntax is as vivid, intellectual, and almost as pretentious as the characters in his stories. Often I found myself reading in front of my laptop, pausing nearly every other page to look up vocabulary in an online edition of Merriam-Webster. It wasn’t that I couldn’t enjoy the literature unless I was certain of the definition of all the words – the first time I read Franny and Zooey my vocabulary was certainly smaller, yet I enjoyed the novels no less. I was more disturbed that there were in fact so many words I didn’t know.