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[Opinion] SNU Recommended Books

Posted June. 27, 2008 03:14,   


Seoul National University’s library said last week that “Flying Trapez” by Japanese novelist Hideo Okuda topped the list of most frequently checked out books over the past year. Including “Namhan Fortress” by Kim Hoon at second place, all top 10 books were novels or essays. The Faculty of Liberal Education of the university explained, “Students tend to check out more novels than books related to their major.” But it also expressed its concern, saying that students of today tend to avoid serious reading, such as reading of classics.

It is nothing new that students do not enjoy reading classics much. In the early 1980s, the news that Chinese knight-errant novel “Demi-Gods & Semi-Devils” by Jin Yong was the most frequently checked out book from the SNU library sent the shockwaves throughout the country. Back then, students read mainly social science books, rather than books related to their areas of study. Some might have read Chinese knight-errant books for diversion after reading serious social science books. Anyhow, it appears that Mark Twain was right when he said, “Classics are said to be the books that everyone must read, but they actually are the books that no one wants to read.”

But what if college students read only novels? Probably realizing how serious the problem is, SNU introduced a policy to encourage its students to read classics. The university is planning to utilize quiz or debate bulletins on its Web site to encourage its students to read the 100 books that it recommended in 2005. I myself checked how many books on the list I have read. I have read 20 of them, mostly during my high school and college days. You might wonder if age has anything to do with reading good books. But it is true that it is even harder to read classics if not in youth.

There are some who are obsessed with the SNU recommended books: private essay-writing institutes and high school students preparing for the college entrance exam. That is understandable because many of the college essay questions come from the recommended books. According to the analysis of essay questions of 18 major universities by Jongro Academy for seven years, seven questions were from “Book of Master Zhuang,” followed by “Analects” of Confucius," "Aristotle`s “Nicomachean Ethics” and “Book of Mencius.” To be sure, reading classics to pass the exam is much better than not reading them at all. Nevertheless, the saying that “there is a way in a book” holds true through life.

Editorial Writer Jeong Seong-hee (shchung@donga.com)