While waiting for my friend to get ready, I browse her bookshelves. What leaps out immediately is a brand new copy of a textbook on XX century Italian literature, a compendium that every high school student simply refers to, since time immemorial, as “il Guglielmini”, from its author’s name.
Clearly, this is not a copy from my friend’s school days but it looks identical to the one I slaved over on my last year of high school.
I sit at her dining room table and open the hefty tome at random: the familiar fonts, three different ones, aimed at differentiating literary criticism from original texts and plot summations, look like long-lost friends who never aged.
I lose myself in the poetry of Giovanni Pascoli, poems I haven’t read in thirty yeas but whose rhythms still sing-song in my head. Another random page – Giorgio Bassani. Coincidentally, the very next day, a friend from Portland e-mails me “Have you ever seen The Garden of Finzi Contini”? Have I ever: about ten times, and read the book twice.
Suddenly, I am nostalgic for forced, rigorous study; for all-nighters fuelled by espresso (and the occasional amphetamine) to cram before college exams. I acknowledge what I have been mulling for some time: despite all the reading and writing I do on my own, I miss being challenged, prodded, contradicted, having my thoughts reined in or expanded. I miss learning in an academic setting.
And, like that, a week later I enroll in a college Summer session. There are textbooks to buy, there will be homework, there will be nights – not fuelled by coffee – but still spent at my desk.
I am curious to see how my approach to learning has changed, what adjustments I need to make now that my once prodigious memory is no longer prodigious, and neither is my stamina. I am excited. Whatever the outcome, I will end up enriched. I hope.
Have you taken academic classes in mid-life or later? How was your experience?