For college students who are swamped with heavy reading during the academic year, semester breaks offer the promise of time to read for fun. Professors are looking forward to some recreational reading too.
For suggestions on what to read, Marlboro College has a tradition: Rapid Reviews. At the end of each term a panel of students, faculty and staff describe their favorite books in a minute or less each.
The Rapid Reviews are held in a small white campus building called the Apple Tree. Bonnie White, who works in the library, organizes the event. She also holds the timer that signals to each reviewer that time is up.
Isaac Dupree, a computer science student, goes first. He holds up a paperback with a drawing of a cat lounging in a ray of sun.
"The solar cat book is a cat book about science, showing that cats know more about solar energy than we do," Dupree tells the audience.
Sophomore Haley Peters reviews Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf.
Peters starts with a confession: " I’ve been telling people that this is one of my favorite books since last fall," she says. "But I actually didn’t read it until this fall. I didn’t read it all the way through. There was one scene that I would get to that was just so devastating, I could not possibly continue. And so I tried to read it many, many times because it was one of my favorite half books."
In an hour the five reviewers at front of the room go through a list of 41 books.
Music professor Matan Rubenstein shares his science fiction favorites.
He begins with "’The Star is my Destination" by Alfred Bester. Rubenstein says Bester is one of his favorite science fiction writers.
"In the fifties he wrote these two seminal novels of science fiction. And then he became the editor of a travel magazine. So he left these two novels, and 25 or 30 short stories and they’re all just considered masterpieces."
"I should probably mention…" Rubenstein adds. But the timer cuts him short.
"Great book," he says with a shrug, and the audience laughs.
In these rapid reviews, no book is off limits. Any work that’s been loved by someone is given consideration and respect.
Haley Peters shares some children’s books that she says helped shape her development and ideas.
One is "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss.
"It’s very repetitive and comforting in the face of this giant mystery, Green eggs and ham," she says. "Also there’s this really fascinating character, Sam I Am, whose very name asserts his presence in the world. This book is just begging for academic attention."
Another student, Maya Rohr, holds up "Coming into the Country" a book about Alaska by John McPhee.
Rohr says, "Being from Alaska I was very excited to find it. And I called my parents and I told them, ‘You guys! You just got to read this book.’ And they just laughed at me. They told me,. ‘Maya, every young person coming to Alaska between 1976 and 1989 had this book in their back pack. This book is responsible for half the population of Alaska.’"
Anthropology professor Carol Hendrickson was among the first rapid reviewers when the tradition started ten years ago. She’s still a fan.
"You’re exposed to a really wide range of books," she says. "And it’s a very short time commitment, one minute per book."
The Marlboro Library buys all the books reviewers recommend. Portable checkout stations swing into action when the reviews end, so the books can be checked out.
Carol Hendrickson chooses two:
"Isaac’s cat solar power book." Hendrivckson smiles. "And then I also took ‘The Essential Calvin and Hobbes,’ because who wouldn’t want to sit and read a little of that over the break?"