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Strictly Fiction No Longer: A Post from a Penn Press Intern

In the following post, Penn Press intern and rising sophomore Jenn Dearden shares her budding interest in scholarly books.

Beyond the Fiction Section

Whenever I go into a bookstore, I always make a beeline for
the literature or poetry section. I can’t help it. I mean, after all, I am an
English major. What else would you expect?

So, I guess it’s this habit of mine that caused me to forget
that there are other types of books out there. Once I started doing research in
college, it was certainly a bit of a surprise to discover that there are a ton
of scholarly books available.

And these books are on everything. If you have an
intellectual question, there is probably a scholarly book out there to answer
it. I was surprised to find so many resources when I decided to write a paper
on J. D. Salinger’s character, Seymour Glass. Who would have known there would
have been books written on Glass’s suicide? I mean, really?

Over the past year of my collegiate life, I have come to
appreciate these books for their information and their authors for their
diligence in researching and effort in answering very difficult questions. And,
after having interned at Penn Press for a while now, I am starting to
appreciate the breadth and range of topics that scholars tackle. At one time, I
might have been a strictly-fiction girl, but now, I like to put the reading of
these scholarly books on my agenda. After all, education isn’t a bad thing, and
it really can be enjoyable.

As much as we push the importance of education, it sometimes
seems as though “learning for the sake of learning” has been forgotten. Growing
up, it was more like, “Learn so that you get into college. That way, after you
graduate, you can get a job with a decent salary.” And when people talk about
possible careers, you’re always bound to get plenty of answers like “lawyer,”
“doctor,” “scientist,” and “journalist.” Does anyone ever say “scholar”? When
was the last time that, after being asked what they plan to do with their life,
a youth said, “I want to learn a lot about anthropology. Then, I’ll probably
become a college professor, do some studies and research, and write a book
about whatever I learn or discover.” In all seriousness, it’s not going to be
an answer that you’ll often hear from any freshly graduated high school
student, even if they are planning on going off to college.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, though, because we don’t
really tell anyone they have the option of doing that. It’s like a well-kept
secret. Even at college, where most of my professors have published a scholarly
work, I know I have plenty of fellow students who aren’t going to realize that
they, too, could do that.

Classics are illuminating, poetry is intriguing, and
scholarly books can be either or both of those things. We should all make an
effort to read some more of them, just as we should look to “learn for the sake
of learning.” I’ve gotten some strange looks, but now, when people ask me what
I’m going to do after I graduate college, I tell them, “Well, I’m going to
become a scholar.” Of what, who knows? I’m being honest, but I also love
throwing them for a loop.

Jenn Dearden is a sophomore at American University.