My husband is the kind of person who has to read a book before he sees a movie based on the book. It was a scramble to read all three books of the Hunger Games Trilogy before the first movie came out in 2012. He even re-read all of the Harry Potter books before their movies. Naturally, he’s finished the first book of the Divergent series with plenty of time before the movie comes out next month.
I, on the other hand, am not quite on track. Last week he casually yet admonishingly asked if I was going to read Divergent in time for the movie. Sadly, though, my first thought was, “Do I even have time to read a book right now?” I am often plagued with the well-ingrained grad student guilt that comes along with doing anything other than lab work or reading journal articles. “Surely I could spend the last few minutes of my time before bed doing something more productive than reading a teen fiction novel,” I thought.
However, as I read C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures for my science communication class the other night, I came across a profound statement (amongst all the other profound statements in his influential piece) that changed my mind about my husband’s suggestion.
Writing about the scientific community’s perspective on literary works, he states: “It isn’t that they lack the [psychological, moral, or social] interests. It is much more that the whole literature of the traditional culture doesn’t seem to them relevant to those interests. They are, of course, dead wrong. As a result, their imaginative understanding is less than it could be. They are self-impoverished.”
“Self-impoverished” – such a powerful phrase to describe the state we, as scientists, put ourselves in when we refuse to consider the value of doing things like reading literary works. Snow points out that an “imaginative understanding” can be gained from reading books. Think about the ways our scientific ideas could become more innovative, integrative and cross-disciplinary if our minds were also being fueled by the works of imaginations that inspired Anne of Green Gables and Elizabeth Bennet.
Of course, in no way am I comparing Divergent to the works of Jane Austen, and I’m not saying you should skip lab tomorrow so you can dust off a copy of Moby Dick. But, the next time you feel drawn (or forced by your spouse) to pick up a book, give yourself a break and read. Let your mind relax into flowery turns of phrase or engage following chilling cliffhangers. Let your imagination unfurl, guilt-free. Your scientific ideas will thank you later.