beach reading

The beauty and reward of reading

When I’ve asked my community college students what they like to read for fun, I sometimes hear that they don’t have time to read beyond the required “school stuff” textbooks, that they haven’t actually read much for years, or even that they don’t enjoy reading. I sadly realize these students seem to be in good company: a rather bleak study several years ago from the National Endowment for the Arts indicates Americans’ time spent pleasure reading, and reading comprehension in general, are on the decline (1).

Professors can feel that decline chilling the classroom: we witness students’ limited patience with the written word coupled with increased confusion over less sophisticated writing. Though these traits tend to apply most often to students on the developmental-education end of the skills spectrum, evidence of declining reading is clear enough that it’s discouraging (and dev-ed students did, after all, graduate from high school).

But summertime also invites optimism: first, it’s a season in which students who need to read more have time to do so. Further, plenty of students DO enjoy reading already, and many others, I think, simply don’t realize the sheer pleasure reading can bring. Even if they aren’t currently engaged in a book, I believe most students understand, in the abstract, the importance of reading for general intellectual and cultural development. So then the question for students becomes “What to read?”

They may start with what catches their fancy. Here is a recent Inside Higher Ed piece from an instructor at Oberlin College who wisely encourages her students to read widely — excerpt:

“I’ve been encouraging students to consider all types of pleasure reading, anything that might improve their reading fluency and stamina: books, magazines, websites, graphic novels, movie and book connections, and audio books.”

Students also may choose to tackle book lists. Last year, I posted a couple summertime book lists links, and I also suggest doing a broad web search for “college prep summer reading lists.” This search will harvest scoresof possibilities recommended by schools far and wide.

In any case, I send my internet wish for young students to read happily and often, making it a lifelong habit; and may they find in their books a positive and nurturing sustenance.

Do you know of a great book list? Some good titles for students’ summer reading? Feel free to comment!

(1)  A relevant article is “Patterson, Proust, and the power of pleasure reading” (February 2008). From Reading Today, 25(4), 18. The NEA study “To Read or Not To Read” is found here.

Image via / wallyir