By Joe Bailey, Asst. Features Editor–
Reading is one of the most common tasks that college students will encounter in the seemingly endless onslaught of assignments thrown at them every semester. As a result, the mere act of reading has become indistinguishable from work for many who are all but forced to do it every day.
This is not only limited to the dry textbooks that might initially come to mind, but extends to novels originally written as pieces of entertainment or artistic expression.
Many students have sworn off long-form reading in their free time in favor of other entertainment options like social media or movies. The sheer volume of digitally based entertainment available has exploded in the past 20 years, along with the rise of the internet, and many young people seem far more willing to read massive amounts of text on Twitter, for example, than they are to pick up a paperback for half an hour.
One common excuse for not starting a book is the massive time commitment that it entails. Although books can take plenty of hours to finish, the same can be said of the TV shows on streaming services that many are willing to burn through in one sitting.
Then why do so many students scoff at the idea of reading in their spare time?
Part of the answer, I think, is the amount of required reading that comes in high school and college. If the majority of books you read are part of an assignment where your understanding is tested, then all books start to seem like work. I wasn’t able to enjoy The Great Gatsby in high school because I saw it as an academic obstacle that kept me from the types of entertainment I thought I inherently enjoyed more.
This is not to blame the classes that assign these books. Obviously, there is a lot that can be gained by looking at great pieces of literature from an academic perspective.
These days, popular perception paints literature as a noble vehicle for knowledge and high-brow art, but it wasn’t always seen that way. When he was writing them, Shakespeare’s plays were seen as low-brow entertainment for the masses, and novel-reading was once the subject of a ‘moral panic’ in 18th Century England, wherein works of fiction were criticized for corrupting young minds, similar to what people said in the early days of television.
This is all to say that context goes a long way to influence what we see as serious and what we see as entertainment. In our own lives, it might serve us well to indulge in a book every once in awhile. Secure in the knowledge that you are free of grades and deadlines, you might start to enjoy your chosen books for their own sake. And after a few of your own, maybe you’ll come to view your assigned books more favorably. At a certain point, the line between work and entertainment will blur.
It’s natural for people to want to do the opposite of what they are told. You didn’t reject vegetables as a kid because of the taste alone. It was forced upon you and you resisted. As an autonomous adult, spinach suddenly tastes a lot better when you make your own salads.