Columns

Montoya ’16: The importance of bibliophiles

By
Opinions Editor
Thursday, October 22, 2015

Students have no shortage of works to read. From our very first days of kindergarten we are led through exercises that shape our understandings of letters, words and sounds, with the ultimate goal of teaching us to read. But with reading presented as a school-related task, many students come to dislike it and see it as a chore. Within this context, we do not view reading as something pleasurable, which is a terrible view to hold. Even for students who do love to read, a culture of fatigue and burnout surrounds the activity — we are so busy reading for classes that we have neither the time nor the mental energy to read books of our own choosing. It is vital to fight against this mentality and make sure that we take time to read for pleasure in order to feed our curiosities and maintain a positive relationship with words.

It is understandable why college students especially have little time to read for pleasure — hours are filled with coursework, job and internship searches and extracurricular activities, leaving little time for much else. It is far easier to re-read that textbook page and then try to get some precious sleep than to open an entirely new book on top of all the others you have been assigned.

I acknowledge that we don’t all have time to read novels every day, but that does not mean there is no room for literature in our lives. A poem, a short story or even just an eloquent quote can all serve to give us a mental break from academia and inspire us. When I am bogged down with midterms and stress, there is no greater escape than revisiting a favorite book or poem from my childhood. In these moments, my worries leave me as I travel back to a time when my world consisted of the magic contained in a book’s pages.

Cliched as it may sound, reading for pleasure nourishes whatever soul or spirit we have within us. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” Outside of Brown, no one cares how many dense textbooks we have read. We are far more than what we study, and reading purely out of enjoyment allows us to explore the different facets of our personalities and interests. Through reading, we nurture our creativity and grow as individuals beyond the tangible jobs we may hold and conventional subjects we may study.

Beyond these individual benefits, reading for enjoyment can also have effects within the larger social world. A 2002 study by England’s Department for Education found that enjoyment from reading is more important for children’s educational success than their parents’ socioeconomic status. Furthermore, a longitudinal study published by the Department for Education in 2010 stated that having books available at home is equally as predictive of children’s educational attainment as their parents’ educational level. With literature so readily accessible through libraries and the Internet, leisure reading could be a productive tool in increasing equality among students from diverse and underprivileged backgrounds.

Admittedly, there are those for whom any kind of reading is a struggle. Perhaps these individuals would enjoy exploring non-written art forms rather than reading for pleasure. They could aim to make art that probed their personal interests and inspired them to expand their personal creativity. While literature is traditionally in written form, it is ultimately itself an art form that is merely expressed in a lettered format rather than a more abstract, visual one.

Anna Quindlen had it right when she stated that “Books are the plane and the train and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.” We should eagerly accept the journeys that books offer us and seek them out whenever possible. In reading for pleasure, we learn more about the world, and ultimately about ourselves — experiences that all should ardently pursue.

Rachel Montoya ’16 is probably curled up somewhere with a blanket and a book. She can be reached at rachel_montoya@brown.edu.