In 1954 I had just transferred my academic ambitions from a special accelerated program in physics to the Department of History -- and for the first time in my life I found myself reading for pleasure rather than a deliberate acquisition of knowledge. Ayn Rand's novel, "The Fountainhead," just happened to be one of the first books I picked up. The impact was not to convert me to the radical individualism of Ms.Rand -- but rather to open my mind to the existence of the world of socioeconomic and political issues and the deep philosophical questions they raised. I eventually ended up in academia considering in some detail those questions and the complexities of trying to find answers to them.
Arthur Kevin Berry '78 *83 Says:
I believe I was in the 5th or 6th grade when I went to my very first book fair at Lucy Molten Elementary School, part of Florida A&M University, in Tallahassee, Florida. I remember picking out 40 or 50 paperback books, including a lot of science fiction and mysteries, but also several novels by Charles Dickens. It was the Charles Dickens novels -- David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Adventures of Oliver Twist --- these books sparked a voracious and insatiable desire to read which has stayed with me until this day ... hopefully, this activity will never go the way of the dinosaurs ...
Rick Waugaman '70 Says:
Thanks for Angela Wu's article, and for inviting readers to reminisce about what we read as undergrads. I assume you mean what we actually read, not what our retrospectively falsified imaginations wish we'd read.
Knowing the fallibility of memory, I'll try. Savage Sleep by Millen Brand, which I saw on the new-book shelf in the lobby of Firestone. It was a novel about the work of real-life psychiatrist John Rosen, who treated severely psychotic patients. I read it because I had decided to become a psychiatrist the summer after freshman year. Le Proces-verbal by J.M.G. Le Clézio (who won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature), because Frédéric O'Brady, my professor of 19th-century French theater, strongly recommended it. I read more novels by William Faulkner and John Updike, since I had enjoyed some of their novels in high school. Dean of the Chapel Ernest Gordon kindly invited me to join a monthly play-reading group he hosted, mostly for grad students. I recall how difficult it was to recite my line "A fart on you!" to Dean Gordon's character in one play. Perhaps to make amends, I read Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory on Dean Gordon's recommendation. He complained that too many novelists portrayed ministers as straw men.
I can only hope there were others. Oddly enough, I think I read more novels in medical school than at Princeton, after our pathology instructor rashly advised us to cut class to read Aleksander Solzhenitzyn's Cancer Ward. He said we'd learn things we needed to know about treating patients with cancer from that novel we might not learn from medical textbooks. I think we were supposed to stop there, but I didn't. And I've read many good novels in a book club my wife and I have been in for eight years. We read mostly non-U.S. novelists, and we have a wonderful rule that all books selected must be less than 250 pages.
Julia de Peyster '86 Says:
Lawrence Stone's writings on British history were eye-opening in terms of social history. However, I don't think I had really thought about academic controversy till he described an on stage debate with Hugh Trevor-Roper that ended in fisticuffs. THAT made an impression and I began to read way more thoroughly after hearing his tale of academic passion ...