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Reading to Live

"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." —Victor Hugo 

“I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” —Haruki Murakami

Inside the Classroom

The central question of the course is the following: Why do literature and books matter? We tend to think of fiction—whether it is novels, films, plays, or more hybrid forms of storytelling—as a product of the imagination: in other words, a “re-presentation” of the world, and thus, a source of information that is, by its very nature, less trustworthy and valuable than other more scientific ways of accessing and analyzing the world that surrounds us.

This course is designed for students who love to read and love to talk about books, but it is not a traditional literature course.

The course will explore the extent to which fiction can enhance (and often inform) our understanding of complex political, social, and personal issues. Students will discover and discuss new categories of analysis that will help them understand why fictional depictions of social values, character behavior, and moral choices can make both practical and theoretical contributions to the question of how we, as readers and social actors, might want to live our lives.

In our weekly seminars, we will spend time discussing how what we have read has changed us and has changed our understanding of the world. Works of fiction will be complemented by challenging (but inspiring) works of critical theory. So in this class, you can expect to read novels and watch films that you won’t be able to forget and to explore ideas that will matter during the rest of your college years and beyond. We will read novels written in English, but we will also read works in translation coming from different national traditions. We will privilege reading well over reading a lot. And there won’t be any busy work or assignments that do not help you learn or grow as a thoughtful reader.

Outside the Classroom

This SSIR experience may begin with a “reading retreat” that will take place away from campus, where everyone will have time to read one or two good books away from the world of texting, email, and Facebook. This would take place prior to the beginning of the academic year, in August, and will be discussed more with students during the interview and first community meeting after students are selected.

Then over fall break, the community will travel to New York City to visit the Special Collections Room at the New York Public Library. Students will take a look at medieval manuscripts, touch books from the sixteenth century, and learn about how books and knowledge are preserved in the digital age.

Research and Capstone Project

Over the course of the fall semester, students carry out research culminating in a research paper on one topic due at the end of the semester. Over the spring semester, students work in groups with their classmates to create a capstone project and subsequent presentation to the University community on those projects.

Course Fast Facts

Olivier Delers, Ph.D.

Years Offered: 2014–15, 2016–17

Fall course:
MLC 211: Reading to Live (1 unit)
Tuesdays, 7–9:30 p.m. & Fridays, 1–3 p.m. (Fall 2016)

Spring course:
IDST 290: Reading to Live Seminar (.5 unit)

Residence Hall:
Lakeview Hall (2016–17)

Group travel:
San Francisco & Chicago (Thanksgiving 2016)

Sample Course Readings