Over the past month, I’ve heard one question a lot: “What are you reading?”
People are surprised to hear that the book isn’t for class—it’s for fun. “I wish I had time for that,” they say. Something about this reaction is unsettling.
The University of Dallas is known for reading; students immerse themselves in the Core, discuss it inside and outside of class, and perpetually search for the deeper meaning behind the texts. So why doesn’t that extend beyond academic assignments?
For many students, it’s a time issue; reading a book is more of a time commitment than hanging out with friends or attending club meetings. But I think the real issue lies in how students view the activity of reading.
In the Core, the homework often involves reading, and it requires an active brain — taking notes, observing rhetorical style, etc. Intellectual discussion during class means students have to make good arguments and search for quotations to support them.
None of this is a bad thing; the problem comes when this is students’ only perception of reading, and they can’t take it beyond college. No boss will order you to read Cantos 1-6 of Dante’s Purgatorio and note how Virgil’s character changes.
Some would suggest the solution is reducing the amount of homework students are assigned, or including the reading and discussion of a non-Core book in the curriculum.
Although these suggestions are both well-intended, they miss the mark.
If students are given less homework but don’t change their perspective on reading, they won’t read outside class. And if a professor requires a recreational book, many UDers would Shmoop that book the same way they Shmooped the others.
Here is the key: having fun while reading means turning your student brain off. If I’m watching a movie on a Friday night, I’m not considering the protagonist’s inner conflict or how the first scene foreshadows the last one — I’m becoming immersed in the story and enjoying it with friends.
This doesn’t mean that recreational reading shouldn’t involve your brain — it involves
it in a different way. Recreational reading involves picking something that really inter-
ests you, putting the pen and Post-It notes down and simply appreciating it.
Encouragement shouldn’t come from the administration, since anything required or recommended immediately makes it un-recreational. Instead, recreational reading should be encouraged in an organic way by the community itself. This might mean more students asking a professor about their favorite book before class, requesting a tour from a library worker when the day is slow — I promise they don’t bite — or borrowing a friend’s car for a group trip to Half Price Books.
UD students are known for taking things seriously, especially their academics, but this is one area where doing so can be detrimental. It’s difficult to see reading as fun, especially at a college where reading is often the homework. However, changing students’ perspective on reading for fun will help them continue reading after they graduate and enjoy it.