The summer before my junior year of college I worked with Dr. Norman Chaney to develop a course in environmental writing. Dr. Chaney worked at Otterbein College, a liberal arts college near where I grew up (and where my uncle Ed teaches theater). Somehow I connected with him that summer, and helped him prepare the syllabus. Late that summer I received a syllabus for a course I was taking that fall at Northwestern, about the novels of Virginia Woolf.
I exclaimed with dismay to Dr. Chaney, "Am I supposed to read ALL of these?" It was a novel per week, a sprint through the fall quarter. He laughed and said, "I think you will be reading everything."
The course, taught by renowned Woolf scholar Christine Froula, was indeed that demanding. But it was also the best class I ever took. Dr. Froula offered us three options for papers that term--one final essay that counted for everything and was 12 pages; two medium essays of 6 pages each; or two short essays (2-3 pages) and one medium-length final. Making the rookie's mistake, I presumed that writing the short essays would be easiest and chose that route.
Turns out that writing briefly takes the longest amount of time. Every word counts, especially when offering a perspective on a writer as complicated as Woolf. Coincidentally, this class occurred during the same time I took a course in Advanced Composition. There too we valued and practiced the art of clear expository writing.
So this was a heady time--grappling with the complex work of Woolf, while learning to become a better writer myself. It was also the quarter I became a coffee addict, regularly visiting the White Hen pantry for 2 AM boosts of caffeine as I plowed all the work. For me this was the single quarter that epitomized the undergraduate experience, and one for which I'll be eternally grateful.
Tonight I pulled Woolf's Jacob's Room off the shelf, and plan to luxuriate in it. It will be a challenge, as the demands of work and the holidays intervene. But there's never a bad time to read good writing.