Thank You, Phillips Memorial Librarians
The new Bestsellers shelf on the first floor at Phillips Memorial Library is attracting some warranted attention. In our last issue, The Cowl featured an article highlighting some popular and contemporary novels currently on the shelves. I, too, have recognized how current the Bestsellers shelf is and have stopped and stared at the selection almost every time I leave the library. Providence College students usually associate our campus library as a place to study or find academic journals for a research paper, not a one-stop-shop for enjoying literature. Yet, our library is quickly becoming a hub for entertainment reads as more and more students recognize the Bestsellers shelf.
I’m an avid reader, so when I walked past the Bestsellers shelf a few weeks ago and saw a familiar author’s name, I had to stop and investigate. The book was The London Seance Society by Sarah Pender. I read her previous novel The Lost Apothecary last summer and instantly fell in love with her creative, descriptive, and exciting historical fiction writing. I had no idea she had written a second novel, so I checked it out and started reading it when I returned to my apartment. According to the book jacket, the book is “a spellbinding tale about two daring women who hunt for truth and justice in the perilous art of conjuring the dead” in Victorian London. The lead female characters develop a love affair, which, at times, is written in a rather descriptive and smutty context. I was shocked that our College’s library would feature media that featured lesbian love, knowing its complicated past of unrecognizing and not supporting the LGBTQ+ community because of our Catholic roots.
Upon further browsing the Bestsellers shelf, I easily found many other stories that include diverse and typically minority characters. The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer is a science-fiction dystopian novel that features a romance between two teenage boys. The book jacket reads, “In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust each other . . . especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.” The Girl From The Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag is a graphic novel that features a romance between two teenage girls. Finally, Cemetery Boys is a supernatural-fiction novel that features a transgender and Latinx high-school boy’s journey in self-discovery and, along the way, his blossoming romance with a fellow male peer. Cemetery Boys is written by Aiden Thomas, who is transgender and Latinx. Our library features all of Thomas’s literature, highlighting that our librarians are dedicated to providing diverse media and supporting diverse authors.
Overall, the librarians at the Phillips Memorial Library, specifically the curators of the Bestsellers shelf, are doing brave and necessary work. They are positively helping the students at PC to become more diverse in thought and acceptance by curating a mixed Bestsellers shelf. Being a PC student can sometimes be frustrating—given the fact that our school promotes a liberal arts education while at the same time promoting conservative Catholic tradition. The efforts of the librarians provide some much-needed hope that there are individuals, specific employees of the College, at our school who are dedicated to spreading positive messages of social acceptance and tolerance. For me, I see the Bestsellers table as a step in the right direction towards a more progressive, accepting, and inclusive PC.
Writer vs. Writer: Is the required reading for DWC in need of a refresh?
Anna Fakhri ’24
The Development of Western Civilization class does not need to update the books required for the course. There is something inherently special about reading ancient literature, whether that be Greek mythology in works like Homer’s Odyssey or theological texts like the Bible. It forces us to consider elements of past histories and cultures. If we refrain from engaging in ancient texts, how will we ever maintain a basic knowledge of the past?
Understanding our world’s past histories and cultures is crucial in the development of our current world. Ensuring we recognize the mistakes of the past in order to provide a more successful future requires us to acknowledge old literature. Reading ancient literature provides us with this knowledge and also helps us to analyze diverse writing styles. After all, ancient literature serves as the primary source of inspiration for all future works and styles of writing.
The modern literature assigned in the course is of equal importance, however. My colloquium course specifically focused on comparing modern retellings of ancient stories to their originals. This worked effectively to demonstrate the similarities and differences between the two and how literature has developed over centuries. Ultimately, both the modern and ancient texts in the Development of Western Civilization courses can provide crucial cultural and historical information. Thus, the works of literature assigned to students in the course should not be refreshed.
Abby Brockway ’24
Historians, professors of the classics, and college students can agree that higher education relies on sources that derive from or highlight the victor’s experience. Narratives of and from the opposite side have vanished from the agenda—socially eclipsed and even physically destroyed by the victor. We live in far more modern times than the days of imperialism and empires. It is our duty as inclusive and globally aware humans to discover the “other sides” in history, philosophy, and religion, and to fight to have those stories told.
One topic that already experienced a source-material refresh was America’s past with slavery. Two decades ago, students were reading from matter-of-fact textbooks and classical works like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Classical texts are successful in showcasing a point of view from a particular time, but in this case, students were not reading the most important point of view when it came to slavery; the slave’s perspective is ignored if students only read these novels. Within the past decade, curriculum developers have instead taken the inclusive route and highlighted narratives written by former slaves that showcase exactly what was suppressed for centuries. Works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project replaced the classical texts written by well-off white men.
In terms of editing the reading content within the Development of Western Civilization program at Providence College, I encourage DWC professors to reevaluate their syllabi and ask: how will my students benefit in the grand scheme of things after reading these works? Professors need to include perspectives from both sides of global contentions like wars, all perspectives from landmark socio-political events like presidential elections, and question if the material is truly beneficial to the student in the long run. Yes, reading classical texts is important because they give readers a glance at what a time period was like, but really, how much is there to learn from the entirety of Beowulf? DWC is a core part of the Providence College experience. Instead of requiring students to read entire classical texts that are complicated, lengthy, and traditional, professors can consider shortening some requirements so more time is available to feature the “other sides” of history.
The Fire is Catching: If the Books Burn, You Will Not Understand This Reference
Fahrenheit 451’s dystopian future may seem unfathomable, but modern society is inching closer to throwing books into the fire. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is one of the many recent examples of censoring curricula with the Stop Woke Act and installing conservative leadership at the New College of Florida. This problem, however, is not unique to Florida. As part of the Providence College community, each one of us is at the center of the debate between academic freedom and personal convictions. As an institution of higher education, the College does not have to question if certain topics are age-appropriate, but no one should take this freedom for granted since new arguments are gaining traction.
Reading should make one feel uncomfortable. A true work of literature pushes the reader to think beyond the confines of their own experience and leap into an unfamiliar world. Students should have the opportunity to explore their interests freely through the world of literature instead of operating within the boundaries of ideology. The new AP African American Studies curriculum bans authors such as bell hooks and Angela Davis simply to cater to the supporters of the right-wing agenda like Governor DeSantis. This does not serve as a valid justification for banning texts from the classroom.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of many influential politicians, history cannot be erased. Even if the government mandates that racism cannot be discussed in the classroom, the impacts of such systems permeate American society to this day. Ignoring the discussion does not change the fact that several of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.
While many parents of K-12 students push back against certain texts for including graphic content, in the age of social media, explicit content is only a search away. 82 percent of the challenges made against certain content involved books while only two percent involved films in 2021 according to the American Library Association. Even though films often depict sexual content, violence, and injustice more graphically by nature, the data demonstrates that the public is more concerned about books. Introducing difficult concepts like sexual assault and violence in a constructive classroom setting is much more productive than a child witnessing it in a YouTube video or Instagram post.
The logic behind the argument for banning books is inherently flawed in its nature. If one considers any discussion of violence worthy of a ban, then the Bible, by this logic, should be banned from libraries and the classroom. However, the targets of book bans are texts such as The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give. The argument is not about violence; the argument has never been about violence. If the argument was about shielding children from violence, the people calling for book bans would work to prevent guns from entering schools instead.
If books could indoctrinate the masses, then Hitler’s Mein Kampf would appear on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books more often than The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Of course, reading can shape one’s outlook on the world, but it does not produce individuals who blindly follow the words of one mind. In fact, reading creates well-rounded individuals capable of developing their own thoughts and opinions, which is the purpose of the entire education system.
If Americans read more books instead of scrolling through their social media feeds, the country would be better for it. With education being such a highly sought-after commodity, the nation should encourage intense critical thinking instead of close-minded ideological reassurance.
The Great Audiobook Debate
Stop Asking Whether It Counts as Reading
There is no greater debate in the book world than whether audiobooks count as reading. Avid readers will argue that listening to a book while busy doing other things cannot compare to sitting down and holding a book in your hands. Many people view listening to a book as cheating—a fake accomplishment. Others find that audiobooks are a great way to stay caught up with your reading goals if you are dealing with a busy schedule and are always on the go. Additionally, there’s the added benefit of choosing the speed you want the book to be. If you’re looking to keep up your reading goals while making the most of your time, an audiobook sounds perfect. However, if your goal is to optimize retention and learn the material of a book, listening to the text may not be the best path.
Numerous psychological studies have been conducted on the format in which books are presented and what relationship this has with our comprehension and retention of the material. Based on their results, it would seem that the old-fashioned physical copy of a book is the best way to read. When reading, research has found that 10 to 15 percent of eye movement is spent rereading what we have already read. This process of rereading happens so quickly that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. However, it can significantly increase our comprehension of the text—far more than listening to the text read aloud to us.
Further, as college students, we are all busy and often try to manage multiple activities at once. It is for this reason that an audiobook may seem so appealing. However, with this busy schedule, it is not uncommon for our minds to wander as we read. This occurs no matter the book’s format. However, with a physical book, it is much easier to find the place where you lost your train of thought. You might still be on the same page or even paragraph. With an audiobook, however, it is more difficult to find where you drifted from the text as the speaker kept going, whether you were paying attention or not.
The distinction between reading formats may be most important when reading for class. If you know that the material being covered in the book is important to comprehend, you need to consider which format will help you learn best. A study from 2010 showed that students who read a lesson on paper performed significantly better on a comprehension quiz than students who listened to a podcast of the same lesson. This continues to support the idea that having the text in front of you and going through the physical process of reading is the best way to retain what you have read.
However, the need to retain the material depends entirely on your purpose for reading the text in the first place. If the reading covers particularly challenging concepts for school or work, this may impact which format you decide to choose. If you’re reading a lighter and easier novel for fun, the difference in comprehension may not matter. If anything, you may prefer the audiobook style that lets you enjoy reading during the semester while still accomplishing your other daily goals. It can seem impossible to keep up with reading during the semester if you need to carve out time in your schedule to sit and focus on nothing but the physical book in your hand. Additionally, audiobooks can be cheaper than buying new books from a bookstore while also avoiding the hassle of having to wait for a book to come in or facing the possibility that the store you visit doesn’t have what you are looking for. With audiobooks, you can begin reading them immediately, with access to nearly any text you could want.
Whichever format you choose, you are still reading the material. It is ableist to deny that an audiobook counts as reading. Disability drives innovation—finding new and creative ways to accommodate disabilities has been beneficial to the entire population. Looking at the history of books, audio technology allowed a world of people to enjoy something that was initially invented to help a smaller population have the same opportunities to engage with literature. So, yes—audiobooks do count as reading. This is not something that can be argued. What can be debated is which reading format will best suit your needs and give you your desired outcome, which depends entirely on your purpose for reading.