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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Abandoned in college: reading for fun

Published: November 2, 2012
Section: Opinions

College can mean no longer partaking in the activities or hobbies that made you happy in your younger years or the awakening of previously unknown passions. Extracurricular reading can fall into either of these categories. On the one hand, reading for fun is quickly abandoned into the collegiate experience due to time constraints, yet students at Brandeis are undoubtedly avid readers because of the mandatory reading that is required in our courses.

There is an important distinction between mandatory reading and extracurricular reading. While mandatory course reading has the ability to introduce us to new concepts, new favorite authors and new genres, it is done out of a sense of duty. Often times, a book that could have been incredibly appealing becomes less so because it is required. Reading for fun gives readers the ability to escape to another time, place, even world. Extracurricular reading is done out of a love of books and getting lost in a world that is not your own.

The problem with college is that while it does provide the opportunity for the discovery of new passions such as Ultimate Frisbee, school journalism, political activism and poor fashion choices, reading for pleasure often falls to the wayside. It ends up taking a backseat to other desires. Kicking it with friends and, occasionally, sleeping take precedence over 30 minutes of a good book before bed. Thanks to all the mandatory reading we are required to do, suffering from reading-fatigue is not a rare condition. It’s hard to want to read J.K. Rowling’s new book “Casual Vacancy” because you just finished reading all of Dostoevsky for that humanities class and you can’t bear to hear the sound of a book spine cracking for quite some time.

To evaluate whether Brandeis students were able to keep up with their reading habit or incorporate casual reading into their collegiate lives, I took to the streets. Most students I spoke to agreed that the demands of their coursework left little time for pleasure reading. Even the ones who did read for fun did it sporadically—on plane rides home, on Hurricane days or when they really should be doing something else. Reading, for many students, has become a dirty pleasure.

Some students try to combat their reading-drought by taking classes with required reading in subjects or books that they like, even when it fulfills no requirements. Not all students, however, have this option. For a pre-med major who just doesn’t have the time to fit in an English course in between the seven science classes they are required to take, their extracurricular reading never takes place. Most of the students I spoke to admitted to not reading for fun since arriving at Brandeis.

Sadly, extracurricular doesn’t make the cut when college time is prioritized. This is upsetting. Professors suffering from an adorably obtuse sense of time-management and a justified infatuation with their own subject, pile words on words until, crumbling under the weight, students let their once-loved habit fade away.

This is unfortunate, because a love of reading is what brought most of us to Brandeis. And once here, it becomes an afterthought. When education becomes a duty rather than a joy, something great is lost. Try to think of the last time you browsed the fiction section of the library, looking for a title or a spine that jumped out at you. Who even knows where to find the fiction in Goldfarb. Does it exist?

As Mark Twain once said, “I never let schooling get in the way of my education.” Brandeis students would benefit from incorporating this Twain mentality into their lives. We spend so much time cramming ideas into our brain, spoon-fed by professors in LATTE posts, that we forget to go out and find new ones through our extracurricular reading. So much can be learned through extracurricular reading and as college students we are deprived of this experience.

Reading just for the sake of unwinding from a busy day to escape to another land in time is valuable. Reading allows us to escape from dreary Brandeis days and too much work. Yet, the demands from our work allow us only to incorporate casual reading into our breaks and maybe weekends. Students, bogged down with the required reading for their courses, lose their ability to partake in casual reading because of collegiate demands.

These reading challenges are not just Brandeis specific. All college students struggle to find the time to incorporate extracurricular reading and the demands of their coursework. Complicating matters is our generation’s infatuation with social networking. Speaking from experience, I will proudly admit that often times my desire to read The New York Times bestseller ends up losing out to scrolling through Facebook and Tumblr for an embarrassing two hours.