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Mike Johnson '11: This TV has words on it!

I will admit this immediately: This column is self-serving, commercialized and part of the liberal communo-fascist capitalistic tendencies of Brown, Inc. As a writer, I feel compelled to ignore any sense of political correctness, preferring instead to send my meager sentences out into the free marketplace of ideas where they can fend for themselves, guided by the invisible hand of public opinion. Yet the message at the core of this column is one that all Brown students can support — we need to read more.

I was inspired by Sarah Rosenthal's '11 recent column ("History — a history," Nov. 10). In it, she discusses the need for all Brown students to take some sort of history course. However, I was disappointed she failed to use the cliched reason that "those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it," so I have — right there, in case you missed it. Yet her treatise in support of history courses gave me a great idea: what if Brown students were required to read?

Now, this is logistically impossible. Indeed, all courses should themselves police this necessity of physically opening a textbook or assigned reading and at least cursorily scanning the words printed within. Yet as constant articles in The Herald indicate, our grades continue to "inflate" faster than a Mylar Barney on my cousin's birthday.

We've all done it; We skip a reading because we're too busy with our other classes, or because we just hate Jane Austen, or because it's FishCo night. Yet we get by, because we can always write that paper on a different text, or use reading period for something other than sleeping until three in the afternoon. But this is unsustainable behavior. Like slurping water from an Aquafina bottle, or using two trays to make up for those who opt to go trayless, it's irresponsible.

The Sharpe Refectory has a lovely bin filled with copies of The Herald, the New York Times, the Providence Journal, and even the metrosexually-hued Financial Times — only real stockbrokers can read pink newspapers. If you eat lunch as late as I do, right before the staff cleans up the debris littering the table, you will see these newspapers scattered around, left behind by those whom I assume were reading, and not just completing various crosswords and Sudoku puzzles.

With such a plethora of reading material, it's probably a foregone conclusion that the average Brown student does his or her fair share of reading. However, this is in direct opposition to the fact that in my own personal, improperly conducted study, the "average" Brown student had no idea who was running for Rhode Island governor this year, much less that one of the candidates was a Brown alum who had previously served in the Senate.

We can read all the neuroscience, biology, Kant, Pliny or Gaiman we want, but if we bury our heads in the sands of academia, we're every bit as detached and "out of touch" as conservative pundits claim we are. The written word pervades our world. It's in our newspapers, in our breakfast lines, on our deodorant. If we can just take the time to read it all, it's amazing what one can find out.

For instance, Trop 50, the orange juice sold at Jo's, advertises that it has 50 percent of the sugar of real orange juice. Seems like a great deal, right? Wrong. If one would merely turn the bottle around and read it, one would discover that Trop 50 is 42 percent juice. Accepting that Trop 50 is 58 percent water, then it should have 58 percent less sugar. From where does the 8 percent of leftover sugar come? Not sure I want to put that in my body.

Up on College Hill, we sometimes forget how fortunate we are to be intelligent, to have the ability to reason through issues and to experience the richness life at university provides. It's easy to forget that, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 30 percent of American adults are functionally illiterate. Sure, they can read stop signs or a grocery list, but to ask them to summarize a short story is to ask the impossible. This is a problem, not with the illiterate, but with a society that tolerates 30 percent of its population being incapable of reading.

I beg of you, read a book, even if it's just for fun. Read the paper, even if it's an article about how Wes Welker will save the Patriots. It is a terrible shame that print media is dying, while the giant television in the Ratty projects CNN's babblings to an apathetic audience. Open your eyes to the squiggly lines on this page. Though I guess if you've made it this far, you aren't the ones to worry about.

Mike Johnson '11 wants you to buy his books, for the good of society.


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