I Want To Be the Very Best (English Major)

March 15, 2014
Aliisa Lee

"I actually don't read for leisure half as much as I want to or should..." I wrote this in my last post after describing my love for Firestone's books. I looked at what I had written, saw that instinct to explain myself, and actually wrote up a good bit more exploring that insecurity. However, so that Books and Crannies wouldn't be excruciatingly long, I've broken it up into this more contemplative post.


I grew up in Hawaii, in a little yellow-beige and brown house circled by a green ring of grass and trees. The house was noisy with shouts and laughter, like you'd expect any house with six crazy children to be. We clambered up our lychee tree, played duets on our piano, biked up and over, up and over a nearby drive like it was a mobius strip, turned sidewalks into rivers of blue chalk, bartered Pokemon cards and scrambled through fences to play with our neighbor's 500 cats.

Yet in the lulls of adventure, I sometimes just wanted to curl up with a good book and a fistful of pretzels. 

when I was younger

I'd pick a book from our crowded shelves, dip a bowl into that monstrous 5-pound bag of pretzels we'd get from Costco and clamber onto the top of our dryer that was tucked in a back pocket of our house. It was absolute heaven up there; the machine would murmur wordlessly while I soaked in the warmth of the backyard sun, of imagined worlds, and of the clothes that tumbled dry beneath me. 

Since my mom patiently taught me from the same worn red "Alphaphonics" book all my older siblings had used, I had always loved to read. When I was home-schooled for fifth and sixth grade, I felt I had been gifted pools of suspended time, pools where I could swim in books until their pages and my fingers wrinkled.

Upon entering middle and high school, I found I soared along in my English courses.

The Much-Needed Grounding

That is, until 10th grade, when my English teacher yanked me to the ground. I remember the shock of that grade on my first paper, and the aggravation of the comments graven in my assignments: "Why is this important?" or "So what? Push further, dig deeper."


Through that year forged in papers and class discussion with my hero, Ms. Schroers, I emerged having tasted the richness of the literature's earth. I knew the joy of digging into the soil was unlike anything else, so while I enjoyed my other high school subjects and did well in them, I felt so much of my heart belonged in the world of words.  

The Distortion

I love to read, but I don't always carry a book under my arm or automatically analyze everything. I have favorite books, but I don't know the ins-and-outs of literature. And that always would have been fine with me. But somewhere in my early time at Princeton, this idea of a true, very best English major crept over my thoughts and carried me toward the concentration.

Literary buff.

I realized the good English major Aliisa would be a literary buff who read 24/7, and who loved to quote and speak extensively about a broad range of authors and niches of literature.

And I realized I wasn't her. 

I wished that were I, and I began to fear I'd make a bad English major in comparison to her. (Though it may seem I'm always having identity crises between this and my teacher epiphany, I promise that's not so). 

I'm not completely sure when and why I started feeling that way. Maybe it scared me that this love of mine was going to become my area of concentration at Princeton, and that made this English major stereotype extremely salient and exaggerated. But whatever the reason, more frequently, when I said I wanted to study English, I sometimes felt like apologizing for not being that living library, or I felt a nagging fear that I'd say something wrong and they'd discover I wasn't an incredible literary buff. 

It's not that I wasn't a decent writer and reader. But I started to think that if you said you loved something or were concentrating in something, you should be phenomenal at it and completely devoted to it. 

The Happy Part

And yet, to concentrate in something doesn't mean everything else becomes peripheral. 

I certainly desire to be more fluent in my area of study, and I'm impossibly excited to continue to take challenging courses with Princeton professors and peers. While I do this, I hope to guard myself from shoving books down my throat for the sake of show.  I treasure searching for books in the corners of Firestone, losing myself in cream pages lit by the Honolulu sun, and I hope it's that type of love for literature that can and help form me into the type of English concentrator and person I need to be. 


The "true English major Aliisa" is not where I'm at or who I am. Really, I'll never be the best English major, and especially in a field with so many facets and applications, I don't think the title exists! Even if it did, I should hope that's not what I would strive for in my life. My time and gifts are God's, and I just hope to cultivate what I'm shaped to be in a way that is healthy, honoring and hopefully of service to others. Being able to spout quotes won't necessarily make me a good English major, or a particularly great person, for that matter. 

Not helpful.

You know what I mean?

Last thoughts

Good things.

But really, I know that I love to spend time writing and reading, and I know that I also like to do other things, like hanging with friends or drawing. While I'm eager to learn more day-by-day and book-by-book, I hope to achieve balance in my interests and relationships, much as I did when I was growing up. For just as much as I once needed to sit on that dryer and soak in a world of ink, I needed to climb trees with my siblings and to chalk the sidewalks blue.