A case for the importance of recreational reading in college



Brenna Fallows

It’s easy to find advice on how college students should balance academics with a social life, work with pleasure and responsibilities with enjoyment. We’re reminded that free time doesn’t have to be something we merely dream of, but instead is something we can earn through the proper and responsible allocation of time. Free time has always seemed a vague concept to me, one that is vulnerable among this generation to the temptations of Netflix and extra sleep. Too often neglected is the value of using this time, or at least part of it, for free reading. It’s become surprisingly rare to see students pick up a book that they weren’t assigned for class.

This unfortunate trend is, I suppose, something that accelerates after high school. In elementary school we were constantly reminded, perhaps required, to read. I can recall my teachers setting time aside for individual reading and having my parents sign off on my summer reading progress. In middle and high school, everyone still had English classes as a part of their curriculum and spent some time with Shakespeare whether they wanted to or not. By college, we fall out of practice, and the liberal arts core classes are sometimes unfairly regarded as a burden when the stress of our other classes and activities assumes precedence. Those carefully chosen syllabi curated by our professors are not considered with the attention that they deserve, the library is only a place to study for exams and we leave our collections of books at home.

Admittedly, I speak with the bias of an English major who finds reading to be highly enjoyable. That is not to say, though, that I am in the minority in holding this opinion. In my experience at Villanova, it appears to be quite the opposite. It isn’t usually a matter of not enjoying reading, nor even a matter of being able to find the time to do so. Rather, it’s perceived as a hobby that requires too much effort. Why would you read when your classes already require you to read? Why spend your hard-earned recreational hours focusing on something that feels so much like school?

The effect of this neglect is that reading only becomes more difficult, and that you become less likely to restart. Suppose you’ve been, like I have, saving the titles of books that spark your interest or accumulating a stack of dog-eared recommendations from friends. To let them sit idly on your desk is to let the experience of reading seem more daunting than it is. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, you begin to lose the patience and skills of interpretation that accompany frequent and close reading. With them is lost the many benefits that books have to offer.

College is a time to grow and change. The wisdom of those writers you’ve only been meaning to spend time is of particular value in this transformative and developmental time. I know most students look forward to summer break in part because of the ample opportunity for leisure reading, but in doing so, this perpetuates the notion that reading is something that is best suited for elsewhere, that can’t exist as a part of our busy lives. Yet, as a part of our daily lives is where the most can be gained. This isn’t to say that you must always unwind with philosophical analyses or historical texts. In fact, some of my deepest insights and most passionate interests were inspired and provided by novels and the plights of fictional characters. I’ve come to appreciate the sense of wonder that my high school English teachers had at the genius of some of the great writers and the way they embody reality and all of its troubles and triumphs within something engaging, creative and beautiful. 

William Faulkner famously said, “Read, read, read. Read everything– trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Then write.” He expresses what I would agree to be the necessity of reading in becoming a better writer. Granted, this skill set is more valued by an English major than an engineer. To write, though, is to communicate, and this is a skill that none of us are worse for improving. When we read, and through the greater variety of what we read, we subconsciously absorb writers’ cadence and vocabulary, observe their style and strengths. And this is reflected in the way we express ourselves on paper and in conversation. My most interesting discussions often stem from things I’ve read in relation to the life I live.

I’ve come to carry an extra book with me wherever I go. When I’m on the train, in a waiting room or in between classes, I have something to experience. It’s as healthy a habit as opting for fruit over French fries, because in doing so we nourish our minds and enrich our lives in ways that we can’t yet anticipate. May this new semester present the opportunity to reconsider reading to be something that is, in fact, fun, an activity of endless variety and innumerable advantages.