“OMG, the Things I Learned in College” is an attempt by author Bob Roth to share his wisdom to college-bound students, but is so full of mistakes and borderline-offensive scenes that it’s best to avoid.
Coming out of winter break, the most-asked question (aside from “What are you going to do with your life, seriously, what, you mean you don’t know?”) was “What have you learned?” If I didn’t have a great answer then, I do now. What I learned in college was to not read “OMG, the Things I Learned in College,” a book by Bob Roth.
Roth has written six books to help college students through job searches and their academic life. His work, both in book and article form, focuses on what he calls “helping college students achieve their employment and career goals.” This one focuses on fictional students who broadcast their advice and struggles on a live radio show.
The radio format is intriguing. The characters can give advice and not sound like they’re preaching or trying to talk down to the reader. It’s their job to say things like this. It’s an imaginative take on the genre of well-meaning books that spend a lot of time giving advice without justifying their ideas or providing dissenting opinions. The two hosts often disagree with each other or find new aspects of a problem to talk about that feels genuine.
“OMG” is the kind of book I’d give to my parents to assure them the world I live in is easy to navigate. All bad things are clearly bad, and I know the difference between good and bad things to do. I even got them this book, so we could more easily talk about my college experiences, and they could learn my hip new slang, like “OMG.”
It wouldn’t be that bad of an idea. There are helpful lists that include suggestions for what to do if you’ve had your identity stolen or how to work your way toward a job you want. My parents might be impressed that I’d taken the time to share the book with them and want to share this new stage of my life and some problems it might include.
There’s just one problem with that (well, two if you include the nine-page sex scene that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose besides being a sex scene): the book can’t help my relationship with my parents any more than it added to my understanding of college.
The story gets bogged down in the details. “OMG” is about two college radio show hosts, Jackie and Scott, who work on their campus, providing hard-hitting analysis of and advice for college life and the experiences of Scott’s friend, Doug, who also narrates the book. Here’s where it gets tricky, though.
Doug is introduced in the third chapter, not the first, and drops out of the narrative on and off, surprising readers each time the story switches to “I” statements. Scott has a girlfriend off-campus, who is only mentioned in conjunction with sex or when she calls the station and the narrator says that the girlfriend probably meant it as a warning to Jackie, Scott’s coworker. Both are awkward subplots that snap the reader out of the narrative flow of the book and fail to provide a compelling story.
Serious issues are approached as extreme examples. Abuse, for instance, is illustrated by a scene where a man yell obscenities at his girlfriend in front of a crowd. While that can happen, life is rarely so simple, and abuse rarely so public. Sexual content is added, seemingly for shock value—what can readers learn from nine pages describing a single sexual encounter? The smut was not used to examine a healthy relationship, or even discussed in terms of what you should learn in college. It didn’t even take place during the narrator’s time in college!
The woman in the sexual encounter also goes on to die from a drug overdose in a later chapter. The sex scene was alluded to during the discussion of her death. There were times, like this, when I felt voyeuristic and deeply uncomfortable reading about these examples, as though I were participating in the simplification of these fictional (but plausible) tragedies.
Out of 30 illustrations (including the two on the covers), five included naked or topless women, and two included nearly naked men. The undressed men were only in pictures with undressed women. Almost 17 percent of the illustrations featured underdressed women, but their lack of clothing added nothing to my understanding of college or the book itself. Readers gain nothing but a sensational picture that does not add anything to the women’s plotlines or characters.
Anyone who has even a half-hearted appreciation for grammar, punctuation and general readability are better off avoiding the book altogether. Nouns are capitalized in what I assume is an effort to make them sound important, but it lends to vague writing that seems to avoid specifics—calling the university in the story the University, for instance. Punctuation happens to the story, instead of pacing my eyes or connecting important ideas. The use of commas actively and frequently confused me.
Worst of the stylistic sins of the book, a new paragraph is not started every time a new person says something, leaving no clues as to who is speaking at any moment. I practiced my best grandmother impression every other page. “What? Who’s saying that? Can you repeat that?”
Roth does not seem to understand college life as it stands. In college, I learned a lot of serious things: how to work hard even when I’m overwhelmed, how to skim over a hundred pages of assigned readings per night and how to talk to people who deal with things I’ll never begin to understand and respect their life experiences. I learned a lot of funny things, too: that I can cite Urban Dictionary in academic papers when appropriate, that burritos taste better after 2 a.m. and that each bathroom on campus has its own benefit and drawback (the third floor Oliphant bathroom is the best place for an afternoon breakdown, complete with tears and sniffling, for instance).
What I didn’t learn in college was that, as Roth would have you believe, a career track should be decided on in the first semester of your freshman year or realizing only in college that you have to work hard to get a job you like in this economy. He pushes the idea that your future job should line up with your current major, even though people get jobs that are unrelated to their major all the time.
Ultimately, Roth failed to create compelling characters or a meaningful plotline. His examples were distracting and unhelpful. The jokes often came at a woman’s expense. The helpful information was lost among irrelevant anecdotes. Worst, Roth seems to underestimate the reader’s life-savvy, constantly giving out advice on topics that readers should already know while glossing over pieces of advice that would be genuinely helpful if he discussed them more. Roth’s hard work and thoughtful suggestions fail to outweigh the flaws in “OMG, the Things I Learned in College.”