Questus Libris: An Apocalyptic Survival Guide to Finding Academic Resources

Questus Libris: An Apocalyptic Survival Guide to Finding Academic Resources

A Personal Narrative by Heidi Garcia

The year is 2019.  Amongst the wasteland of pilfered PDF files, Wikipedia cited as a reliable source, and budding academics struggling to find time for assignments fueled by draughts of coffee, the world of UNC is a perilous place.  Parental guidance?  None.  Detailed assignment guidelines?  No…instead: Creative Freedom.  Plagiarism detection software lurks in plain sight.  A constant reminder that Our Ideas Are Not Alone (not to mention someone has probably already written a book, podcast, serial, magazine run, newspaper campaign, grocery store ad, and phone book directory on your topic).  In such a world, what is a student to do in the search for particular texts for their ENGL137 class?

Well, lucky for you, as a Senior, I have already stuck my neck out and learned how to survive this altered landscape and have created this handy 5 Step Guide to help you survive.  May the databases be ever in your favor…


Rule 1 — Find a bunker and use it well.  You need a home-base, somewhere that you can lie undetected and safe from the lurking Panic.  Hoard your resources there and treasure them.  Spend a lot of time there.  Acclimate and become strong, that way when you go out, you can fight to right our perilous world.  You may not know everything it contains originally, some of it will be more than you can handle at first, some of it may even be dangerous, but don’t run.  This is the first beast you must tame.  Don’t give up.


Rule 2 — Be Prepared.  Take everything you might need but (there’s always a “but”) be careful not to weigh yourself down.  Don’t collect every book on your topic, or download every free copy of Poe’s works, otherwise you will drown in the Sea of Information


Rule 3 — Watch out for pirates.  Oh yes, here there be pirates.  E-book pirates are especially rampant.  Be wary of the tools you trust.  Don’t just take any old sword and don’t just download any old version of the book you need.  Old books, especially those that have been moved to the public domain are notorious for bad formatting, inaccurate translations, or abridged or edited versions that detract from the original work.


Rule 4 — Document EVERYTHING. You never know what wayward soul will come across your work and need it to survive themselves.  Nothing is ever “just” a paper.  We’re at a school of academic legends, treat every assignment as such!


Rule 5 — Find your tribe.  Contrary to what the usual apocalypse narrative is (but consider who is still alive here (little old me)), you can’t do it alone.  Find your team and keep them close.  You need people to watch your back and teach you academic ninja moves.


But, what does all this look like in real-life?

Lucky for you, I am featured in this handy-dandy video of my own bunker-home-base, the Robert B. House Undergraduate Library:

This is my secret for navigating the perilous Sea of Information—and I’m sharing this deeply coveted secret as I prepare to depart one death-defying setting for another, a frozen tundra of flatlands and even more coffee.  A place known as Dakota of the North—and where I accessed every resource for this class (minus the texts available through Sakai that our lovely professor provided us).  I am a lucky soul, who has found each of the 5 Survival Steps in one place on campus.  Within the library, both working there and as a user, I have been kindly counselled about making critical choices about sources, utilizing the library landscape and Library of Congress call number system, second opinions, textual guides, and advice on reliable editions, citation formats, and brainstorming sessions.  Most of my best friends on campus are also there, offering me the support of friends, resources, information, and employment all in one convenient place!

Stereotypically for apocalyptic narratives, I have accumulated a deep fondness for this foreign landscape I have learned to navigate.  A place that once seemed so overwhelming and out of my depth has become a place of comfort and community.  A place that, when tasked with acquiring resources for ENGL137, I did not have to think twice about how I would proceed.  Education, whether within my fictional apocalypse (I really had you going, right?), or not, is a true gift, and I feel not only blessed, but privileged to count you all amongst my AANT (Apocalyptic Academic Ninja Troupe).  Thanks for fighting academic zombies and pirates with me.  I’ll never forget you.



Works Cited

UNC University Libraries. R.B. House Undergraduate Library. UNC, 2019. Accessed 8 April 2019.


The Night Circus Audible Audiobook Review

When I first read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, in 2012, I wrote a Goodreads review outlining my thoughts on the novel itself.  Though I have to take a moment to brag that this was in my time of being in the top 2% of reviewers on Goodreads, I chose not to return to the themes in that review because I feel like my literary tastes have changed in the last 7 years, and as I experienced the story in a different format this time, that of course, altered the experience of the story.  As such, I will specifically discuss the Audible edition of the book, as narrated by the wonderful Jim Dale.

As a passionate advocate and lover of audiobooks, I was surprised to realize some crucial things about my literary self; firstly, that for academic purposes, I do not prefer audiobooks, secondly, I prefer audiobooks that I have read the print version multiple times, and thirdly, I don’t absorb audiobooks very well if I am doing anything other than driving by myself.  I think these all relate back to the first point; when experiencing a novel for academia, my mind craves the physical appearance of the black print on the crisp page, the intangibility of sound is slightly stressful as I am afraid I will not recall the material as accurately.

However, objectively speaking, how is it to experience Erin Morgenstern’s novel through the velvet voice of Jim Dale?  His narration of the story is mysteriously beautiful, tinged with ominous undercurrents.  The language of the novel, is, in itself lyric in quality, leisurely lilting, and beautiful in sentence form, but, intriguingly, I found I felt differently about its tone coming from Jim Dale instead of my own interpretation.  I read it as less mysterious and more cohesive.  This partially goes back to my last experience with the book being physical, however.  It was easy to flip back to the last portion with Bailey, for instance, to remind myself where we left off, to page through and compare the dates the story alternates between, and so forth.

As an audiobook, I would say it felt…busy.  Not busy in a bad way necessarily, but in a way that asked immense focus from its consumer.  The cast of characters was a bit large for an audiobook that skipped around in its own timeline quite so much, in my critical opinion, but I say this as a strong visual learner.

Jim Dale deserves all due applause for his performance, he incorporates different voices well, reads at a clear, measured, and lyrical pace, and, in a way becomes the story.  From listening to many audiobooks, I have noticed that some narrators very much feel like they are reading off a script, but with Jim Dale, it feels very much as if he were just sitting down to tell you a beautiful story.

At the end of the day, I would recommend, if you are also listening to this for a class, read along with the narration—it will help to anchor the novel more.  If, however, you are experiencing it, solely for fun, I would recommend lying back, closing your eyes, and allowing Jim Dale and Erin Morgenstern to take you on a beautiful immersive adventure through the Cirque de Rêves.


Dairy and Pierre: An Examination of the Cheesemaker and the Writer

Melville, in a curt and rather frank analogy, reminds me of aged cheese.  The kind that kids spit out, teens might pretend to like in an effort to seem grown up, but the only people who actually like it are those old enough to have acquired a taste for it, so to speak. This, in essence, is the novel, Pierre.  A vastly complex and sophisticated tome, it, like some good aged-Vermont-extra-sharp-cheddar, requires small doses to understand and appreciate.  While a kid could, technically consume it, it is unlikely.  While we might force highschoolers to read it, they are probably not garnering the full effect of the novel, but that is not to say, that repulsion is not an important step.  Exposure breeds familiarity and, in small doses and plenty of contemplation.  Pierre (both as a character and a book) reads best in small doses, and the novel is set up to influence the reader to consume it in this way, dividing the story into a plethora of subsets and fragments.

Aging cheese requires a very specific kind of environment, usually a special place one that is dark and is of a cold temperature.  This space is referred to as “the cheese cave” (New England Cheesemaking Supply Company).  Melville had his metaphorical cheese cave in his dark and rather troubled emotional state in writing this novel, and in a way, it shows.  We, as readers, can see the emotional strain, heartache, and the questioning of his previous way of life (the publishing industry).  While this might be off-putting to some readers, I would argue that this is exactly Melville’s prerogative as a writer.  Most people struggle with displacement when it comes to complicated emotions, the lucky ones process their struggles through art and Melville should be applauded for, not only processing his pain with art, but also managing to make money off of it (even if it was albeit, not much), but how many of us can say this about a breakup?  Sadly, all the Ben & Jerry’s I’ve consumed over the years was on my dime, not the unsuspecting bookworm.

Even once the consumer is seasoned enough to genuinely like the dairy relic posed to them, there is another threshold to cross with our metaphorical cheese, even once one can stomach the poignant flavor and smell, there is the reconciliation of the process.  Cheesemaking, is simply put, a bacterial process.  It involves encouraging certain types of bacteria (that would usually make us sick), to grow and flourish in this special form and space, that, somehow, makes it more acceptable.  Which is exactly what Melville is doing with this novel.  While he understands (after much encouragement), that there are less stalker-ish ways to go about his heartbreak, he can finally accept that using the very letter that caused him so much pain as a murderous weapon at Hawthorne’s expense would be frowned upon, nothing (not even the most staunch critical review), could stop him from “acceptably” carrying it out within the space of his tale.  It is worth noting, on this point, that mold is a very natural side effect of aging cheese.  While novice cheesemakers will balk at this, experienced connoisseurs will inform you that it is perfectly acceptable and easily handled via a cloth dampened in heavy salt water (New England Cheesemaking Supply Company).  This aspect, I would argue, is allegorical to the “heavy salt water” (tears), that Melville probably experienced during this cathartic process.

The process of the cheesemaker and the novelist, very much effects the consumer, though in ways the consumer might not fully be able to understand without some further research.  The potential for danger (bacterial or emotional), runs deep and there is no warning on the cover, or packaging, to warn the consumer to safety.  But the process is not the result.  While it is a grand part of it, the writer, as well as the cheesemaker, after producing their work, gives it to the world, where it grows (sometimes mold, sometimes poor reviews, depending on the case), adapts, and is interpretable.  The same cheese that the child spits out, the connoisseur adores and the same book that the bored teen puts down, the English major devours.

But, does this very idea prove the universality of Pierre?  While an unconventional method and flavor, aged cheese, is still cheese (and who is not a fan of that?).  While an unconventional writer with an unconventional style, it is still a vastly important book.  If taste buds change, roughly every seven years, how much more frequently do our brains and literary tastes?  Some books should be revisited as we grow, and Pierre is one such book.  Melville has given us the tale of a boy, trying to become a man in an incredibly vast, complicated, and cruel world, an occurrence as familiar, as having a slice of cheese.  It is something that must be returned to, frequently and often, sometimes by craving, sometimes by orders, sometimes by necessity.   The system might seem a bit ugly, the process scattered, the creator questioned on why they would not pursue an easier endeavor, and yet, no matter what else could be said, it cannot be argued that it is an endeavor of the heart.


Works Cited:

New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Aging Cheese. New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, 2019.