As Princeton students, we read all the time. Whether it’s scientific papers for a molecular biology lab or American novels for AMS 101: America Then and Now, we spend our days here gleaning the knowledge we need for our classes, papers, and exams. Many of us also read journals and some nonfiction for our own respective interests, whether they be in chemistry, history, or music. However, only a few of us read novels for fun. For example, once when spending hours stalking the shelves of the fiction section of Firestone Library, selecting books such as “A Game of Thrones” and “The Little Prince,” I was accompanied by 10 fellow patrons. Out of the 10, I found out, only three came to read novels that were not for class. This disuse of the provided literary resources reflects a key missing ingredient in an undergraduate education in Princeton: reading novels.
Being a Princetonian is tough, and finding the time for leisurely reading is admittedly difficult. Throughout the week, there is an endless cycle of studying, writing, and reading, with scarcely enough time for sleep or social interactions. Each hour that we spend doing something that is not assigned to us or for our future career is another two hours we will have to invest later.
But reading novels is an important investment in itself, and those who neglect to read fiction are at a loss. Fiction paints unexplored worlds that we cannot find in our textbooks. For example, I may spend hours peering through my physics textbook about Gauss’s Law and the right-hand rule to solve my problem set for the week. But learning about these topics from a scientific point of view tells us only how to solve questions on a quiz or an exam. This perspective taken by the textbook does not suggest how the transporter in “Star Trek” can feasibly work using electrons. It does not speak of the famous feud between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla about who invented alternating currents. Therefore, focusing on only textbooks or schoolwork means denying oneself all the stories that are not told within these tomes.
For instance, when I entered my sophomore year at the University, I did not know which path I wanted to walk. I did not know if I wanted to serve others for the rest of my life as a doctor or whether I wanted to spend my life for myself. In these days, it wasn’t Career Services or Health Professions Advising that helped guide me. It was “The Little Prince” (I highly recommend it). As I read through how much the Little Prince missed his common, sassy rose on his small planet, I was struck by how even the smallest and meanest can become the most precious because of the emotional value that they add. I thought of the work that I would do as a doctor, of the hundreds of hours of labor I would inevitably perform. I realized that even the labor that I would do would become a time of happiness for me, because it would be for a cause I have decided to be worthy of my efforts. Therefore, I now want more than ever to be a doctor. Now I know that fiction can bring hope and clarity to those of us lost in self-doubt.
As Princetonians, we strive to have a well-rounded education. But we often think that education is only about receiving knowledge from multiple disciplines. However, knowledge is not only about organic chemistry or the classics. It is also about discovery of new perspectives and of inner truths of where to go and how to get there. We need to receive this education, and that begins with a stroll to Firestone.
Daehee Lee is a sophomore from Palisades Park, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.