Cardinal Column #13: Mixing Reading Genres

(Editor’s note: The result of a burnout during finals season and an idea from a Cigarro and Cerveja comic, I had a lot of fun writing this one. I got to be particularly schizophrenic in my style, splicing together what I was reading at the time and channeling my desire to be William S. Burroughs. I’m a huge proponent of the cut-up technique and how something new can come from mixed sources, and how when you hear something it can be rewritten a different way – often to a much better result. I have a mix of those experiments, some of which will soon be finding a new home on a new blog.

The first paragraph is particularly twisted, taken from my cookbook, cuts from my Journalism 560 and Art History 354 texts, Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics” and Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” I was giggling like crazy while putting that together.)

Forget everything you know: Enter Les’ genre tornado

Originally published in The Daily Cardinal, April 5, 2006

“With the oven preheated to 350 degrees the New Yorker is run by decayed whores pouring over J. Walter Thompson advertising. Bernal redefines ancient models for advertising Aunt Jemima pancakes as electric snakes in the sky study how drug dealers still live with their moms. You can cook better pasta, and cook with glowing red rocks and metallic shrubs! Zip! Crack! Ow!”

What is this jumble, you may ask? Perhaps the latest mumblings from Scanner Dan between corncob pipes, or a waterlogged textbook with smeared type? In fact, it happens to be the first paragraph of an essay I was working on for art history, only four words of which can even be used in the final draft.

To answer your second question, I was not on drugs when I wrote this statement and I did not use a random word generator online in the hopes of digitally replicating a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters. Rather, I fell back on my more dangerous habit—mixing literary genres when reading and hoping I could absorb it all at once.

Being a university student naturally means you’re going to mix genres, as I can’t think of a single course at this school that doesn’t have at least one reading assignment due a week. These reading lists set traps for students that actually want to do well—either they’re crazy like me and consider reading assignments a challenge that needs to be met on time, or they put it off until the end of the year and overload.

Trips to the library for extra reading usually accentuate this problem, as I consider it a challenge to reach the university’s limit of 250 books checked out at one time. I stock up on almost every book I can get my hands on—I actually have so many right now my bedroom door doesn’t close fully—and promise myself that I’ll read them all before I go over six renewals and the librarians shoot me into the lake via trebuchet.

This blend of books results in a reading order that borders schizophrenia—a section of a textbook, a few chapters from one of the books on my reading list, a philosophy essay and then finishing a library book when I wake up from the philosophy essay. Add this to undergraduate insomnia, and the odds are your thought processes will resemble a Jackson Pollock painting by morning.

So why do I keep doing it? I have two reasons: first, an almost masochistic drive to finish as many books as I can and add them to my list of favorites on Facebook. When finishing a book there’s always a sense of personal accomplishment, and if you get all the way through you can pick up on enough little details to make yourself a formidable force in literary discussion.

The second reason is a bit more personal, and requires a passion for the absurd: mixing genres can often lead to more fun than reading books alone. Reading political commentary with cookbooks can make you very passionate about your next meal, while blending graphic novels and economic texts leads you to question exactly how superheroes can afford their headquarters and shiny gadgets on the unpaid intern’s salary of saving the world.

It’s not for everyone, but with a balance of books and sleep deprivation mixing genres can lead to some of the most interesting reading experiences ever. Just try to pace yourself when exams come—professors are not yet ready for a single term paper on MAD Magazine, Watergate and the conquest of the Incas.


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