IT'S THAT TIME of year again. Time to gather up the books that have been gathering dust on your Harvard-supplied shelves. Time to be nice to all those people who took notes in the classes you slept through. Time to blame your parents for entertaining you over vacation, instead of letting you work. Time to talk about taking exams before Christmas and then realizing in a spasm of insight that you would fail. Time to put in your first appearance at breakfast.
Some things never change. Reading period settles over the banks of the Charles like the gray doom that accompanies it. The streets ice over, the zippers go up and Tommy's does a booming business. Some people make lists (Monday: research for paper, reading for Soc Sci, reserve reading for Nat Sci; Tuesday: outline paper, more reading for Soc Sci, general panic). Some people disappear into the dead zones of Widener, wandering through the stacks in search of something more interesting that "Population Demography of Rural Pakistan" and staring out the windows to ponder the meaning of life.
Most people disappear into their rooms; they close the window and pray, pray that some knowledge will join the carbon dioxide floating around the room; pray that maybe, just maybe, there'll be another "act of God"--a Blizzard of '80 if you will--and Harvard will shut down. The snow refuses to fall. They emerge at meal times, lingering over the lime sherbet, going back for more Sauerbraten, saying "yes" to the pureed squash. Anything to postpone.
Some things about reading period are inevitable. The professor who you thought was so "dynamic" reminding you in the flourish of his last lecture that "extension is not a word in my vocabulary." There is always the hapless search for the book, first in the upstairs catalogue, then in the bowels of the Union catalogue; the trek to Countway or Tozzer or some other library in the hinterland and, finally, the gaping hole on the shelf. The time spent on the second floor of the Coop, pawing the record racks in search of a disc that you don't really want.
The people around you change. The guy next door who is dull as hell turns out to be funny. The nice normal woman down the hall is really a competitive monster ("that's right, four 20-page papers due tomorrow, and I haven't done any work for my exams"). The tutor who does nothing but play loud music becomes a hermit, hiding away in his suite to work on a paper that was due "two years ago."
IT ALWAYS HAPPENS this way. Your best friend from North Dakota, whom you haven't seen in eight months, knocking on your door the night before your Chem 20 exam. Your home team, after botching every playoff game in recent memory, finalling making it to the Super Bowl. Your hardest exam is the next morning. You come down with your period the morning of your first exam. You gain ten pounds.
You tell yourself that next year, it's going to be different, that you'll work during vacation, be organized. Stop kidding yourself. We'd love to tell you that we've found the cure for reading period. But, we haven't.