Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursdays at the Library

Shakespeare library books

Today is Thursday.

On Thursdays, the nanny shows up at 1:30, just like the other days of the week when I have class, but on Thursdays I'm not in a rush to get out the door. I said leisurely good-byes, then got in my car and drove to my local public library first to pick up a hold, then back on the freeway to head down to campus. Traffic was worse than usual, but my audio book was fantastic (H is for Hawk, by Helen McDonald) and I didn't mind at all. I found a parking spot quickly, then walked the twenty minutes across campus to the library. I stopped at the front desk to pick up another round of holds (these ones a bit thicker and heavier than from my public library), then staggered upstairs under the load.

The library was busy today. More and more students fill up the carrels and tables each week as the semester gets under swing. I wandered around the floor looking for an available seat when, bingo! I spotted an empty private room on the other side of the stacks and sprinted for it, rushing to secure this prime location before any other student could snap it up.

I settled in to peruse the books that I'd just picked up from holds, seeing if they actually contained the information I was looking for, highlighting the pertinent sections that looked useful, and deciding that one book was going straight back to returns. Then I fired up my laptop and spent a few minutes revising the paper I'm presenting this weekend. In the privacy of the study room, I practiced reading it aloud and timed myself (18:38 minutes, under the 20 minute time limit, so that's good). Then I pulled out my notes from the last meeting with my adviser, looked up the books he had recommended for further research, wrote down call numbers, and headed out to the stacks.

This is where I've found myself almost every Thursday since the semester started. Wandering the dusty stacks of my university library. Since this is my final semester, I had the choice of either taking three classes for a full load, or taking only two classes and writing a Master's essay (like a thesis, but my program calls it an essay). Up until last October, I fully intended to take the easy route, sign up for three classes, and slide on out of academia forever.

But then I was struck by an idea, a half formed idea that I didn't really know what to do with, but that I found pretty interesting. And in the course of a few weeks I'd written a proposal, talked my professor into being my adviser, and signed up for only two classes with the third credit going toward a Master's essay.

So now I have a class on Tuesday about Robin Hood adaptations (this class is so fun I can't even begin to tell you), a class on Wednesday about Shakespeare (who is kind of my favorite, cliche as that is), and on Thursdays, I find myself here, in the library with a few beautiful, uninterrupted hours to read, write, and wander around the stacks. The luxury of it is almost sinful.

With a schedule like this, I'm actually having fun. I look forward to homework (oh, you want me to watch another Robin Hood movie or Shakespeare play? Okay!). I'm enjoying the freedom to work on a paper that interests me. And mostly, I just love the simple joy of spending so much time in a library. Every time I walk among the books, smell the old musty paper, touch the spines, I sigh with happiness at the privilege.

I'm not going to lie and say that writing a Master's essay/thesis is easy. Get back to me in a couple months when my deadline is looming and I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune. I've certainly had my low moments before when it comes to academia. There's been the stress of homework and papers and deadlines. There have been horrible required classes with awful professors that made me want to quit every day. And there have been plenty of moments knee-deep in critical scholarly articles arguing over insanely minute details, when I've just wanted to wash my hands entirely of academia, of this whole advanced degree thing, and go actually do something important with my life (like take care of my children!). I mean, I'm studying literature. What good is that going to do the world? What use does my degree actually provide anybody? Am I really contributing anything to society at all?

But then there are those moments, like that time last semester when my professor took us to the special collections and showed us an original King James Bible, and I actually got to touch it and turn the pages with my own hands. The chills! The absolute thrill of that! What a privilege.

That's all I can think of today, as I sit here in the library, among these old and musty books, reading and writing and thinking the ideas of men long dead. What a privilege! What an absolute privilege to touch these things. To have this knowledge before me, to take a stab at grasping it. To swim among these books and these thoughts and ideas. To sit at the table with such greatness before me. What privilege.

And what serious, serious fun.


  1. This is awesome, Suzanne. I know school's not all glamour and fun, but I felt a little twinge of envy while reading this. What is the topic of your essay?

    1. Yeah, not going to lie, those Thursday afternoons are sweet. So I'm writing about Ben Jonson (you've probably never heard of him, but he was a contemporary of Shakespeare, poet and playwright). I don't love his plays (they are a bit tedious), but in 1616 he published a big fancy folio of his collected works, and it was basically a big moment for a.) moving literature into print and publishing and b.) treating a play as something literary to be read rather than viewed. I'm pretty interested in how printing impacted literature like that, so I find it a fascinating topic on a larger scale.