Walking through the heart of campus, I caught snippets of a conversation that set my teeth a-rattling. A student was complaining to a friend about the heavy reading load he had for class.
His friend didn’t share his sympathy when he found out that the class was called “good books.” He may have been more understanding had his buddy been blindsided by a crafty chemistry professor who snuck War and Peace into his curriculum, but with good books, his friend was clearly bringing the horrors of reading on himself.
It is always discouraging to see adults who retain an elementary school mentality about reading, an attitude which simply asserts that reading isn’t “cool” and they want no part of it.
This attitude is an example of the battle literature advocates have been fighting since the advent of the television, video games and other escapist mediums.
One in four adults said he or she read no books at all this past year, according to an Associate Press-Ipsos poll released in August.Reading is in a well-documented freefall. Three years ago, a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) study entitled “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America” found that only 57 percent of American adults had read a book for their own enjoyment in 2002.
Reading is an essential thread in the fabric of an informed and active society. It fuels the imagination and helps readers learn to form connections between one idea and the next.
The NEA study also found links between reading literature and being active within the community.
“Literary readers are nearly three times as likely to attend a performing arts event, almost four times as likely to visit an art museum, more than two-and-a-half times as likely to do volunteer or charity work, and over one-and-a-half times as likely to attend or participate in sports activities,” the study found.
One of the most important benefits of reading is that it exposes readers to new ideas. In a world that constantly strives to attain tolerance and acceptance, the ability to contemplate ideas and to understand and accept what is at the root of differences is crucial.
Seeing ideas on the page can have a more lasting impact than merely hearing someone spout off a new idea during the course of a conversation. The idea is forever captive on paper, free to be examined again at the reader’s leisure.
Books can depict the nuances of people in places that a reader may never visit. Literature from different countries can broaden readers’ horizons without them needing to set foot on foreign soil.
For instance, reading Japanese literature invites understanding of how the concepts of Honne and Tatemae shape that society. Honne is a person’s true opinion, often suppressed, while Tatemae is what society expects of a person. In Japanese culture, Tatemae takes precedent.
Reading the literature of different time periods is valuable in that it displays something basic about human nature which transcends trends in speech, dress, customs and lifestyle. The themes in Shakespearean plays are as relevant today as they were during his time.
People reading his work can identify with it and take comfort in the fact that people hundreds of years ago were dealing with the same problems they are dealing with now. Love, betrayal and redemption still play significant roles in the human condition.
Reading is a quiet, reflective pursuit. It produces an effect that is calming in its escapist qualities. Because reading requires concentration, it takes readers outside of themselves, putting their problems on the back burner. In any given literature, a reader is bound to encounter characters who have it better and characters who have it worse.
If the student I heard talking to his friend is brave enough to stick it out in class, he is bound to learn something. He may come across characters and stories he can relate to. Ones that have bigger problems than having to read a few books.