DO WE READ anymore? Between going to classes, doing assignments, and trying to find time to eat and sleep, do students still take time out of their day to read for pleasure?
Four Fulcrum editors took on the topic of student reading habits and came back with four different responses.
The importance of reading literature
I WAS AN avid reader when I was a kid. I used to read everything: Sports Illustrated, short stories, the liner notes to my favourite albums (all of which I’m too embarrassed to list here).
As I grew into teen fiction, I remember having my life changed by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy; those books were filled not only with incredible storytelling, but they also took on controversial social subjects like religion and death. From there, I got very involved with fantasy novels that could transport me to another place and time, real or imaginary. I idolized Guy Gavriel Kay—a prolific Canadian writer in the fantasy genre—for his ability to describe settings in such painstaking detail that it felt like I was actually there. For most of my early teen years, I wanted to be a writer who could do that same thing for other people.
It’s hard to place exactly when, but somewhere along the line I stopped reading. In high school I began using the Internet a lot more, preferring to browse web pages over opening a novel. This continued on into university, where I was so busy reading for classes that I couldn’t even imagine making time for reading anything else.
It wasn’t until my third year at the U of O that I made the conscious decision to start reading literature again. To be honest, it was more of a ploy for intellectual legitimacy than anything; I’d read an article on Thought Catalog—the popular twentysomething lifestyle website—that name-dropped a bunch of authors, and I convinced myself that I wouldn’t be cool or smart until I knew who these writers were and could talk about their works at all of the hoity-toity hipster parties that I never attended.
Misguided as my intentions were, getting back into fiction was a revelation for me. I’d forgotten how much of a rush it was to finish an amazing novel and bask in it for a while afterwards. I was getting to know characters I should’ve been best friends with already. Opening up Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises on the bus was way more satisfying than opening up Facebook on my phone. Not only was I enjoying reading again, but I was also naturally becoming a better writer too, solely by immersing myself in the words of these iconic authors.
Not everyone is going to pick up Hemingway and love him. If you’ve quit, I suggest that you at least try reading again, though. Maybe you’re like me and it’s a habit you’ve fallen out of, or maybe you were never much of a reader in the first place. But by ignoring all of the great novels out there, you’re closing yourself off to more than you realize.
Who has the time to read?
THE SUMMER BEFORE I entered university, my mother told me to read as much as I could now, because as soon as I started, I’d have no time to pick up a book. Her message proved to be prophetic. After having to do tons of readings for class, and writing paper after paper, who really has time to sit down and read The Hobbit unless it’s for an English course?
I think that there is no “trend” in students not reading, but rather a culture in university that forces students to cut any reading that does not involve schoolwork. Being forced to read rather than choosing to do so morphs our perspective of the book itself.
For example, last year for a prose fiction class I had to read The Great Gatsby. It seemed so boring during the course, but in truth, I was reading one of the most seminal books of all time. Had I read it on my own time, I probably would’ve been able to enjoy it much more. No one likes being forced to read things, but because of school, we have to.
I honestly don’t think I have time to read something that’s not for school. Between working at the Fulcrum and going to class, I don’t have spare hours to go home and read Moby Dick or Catcher in the Rye. Know what I do? I sleep. Sometimes I even make dinner.
I wish I had time to read. Before university I used to spend hours and hours reading my favourite Scott Turow or James Patterson books. The truth about university is that you check fun at the door. You can either go out and meet new people, or you can stay in and read about Frodo’s epic journey. For me, I chose to meet new people.
It’s hard to say that reading is dead amongst students, when really, students don’t have time for reading. You can point to the Internet as being a new reason why students don’t read, but I just think that there will never be enough time to truly get into a novel while in university.
Look at it this way: It’s only four years—knock on wood—and then you may have time after that.
Why are e-books the more expensive option?
IT’S A DIGITAL world out there, and to get with it, you have to get techie with it. For the first time since Gutenberg invented the printing press, there’s a new kid on the literary block. And that, my friends, is Amazon’s Kindle.
Now on it’s fifth generation, this e-book reader allows users to download songs, read newspapers, browse the Web, and, of course, read novels. But for some strange reason, it’s more expensive to buy a digital book than purchase a paperback, or even a hardcover one from your local Chapters.
While the latest version of the Kindle is so souped up that it’s comparable to Apple’s iPad, there’s no denying that the price of an e-book does induce a little head scratching. Who cares if you can store 6,000 songs, run over 80 applications, or that the new Kindle Fire HD runs on Google’s Android operating system, making it akin to a computer? When you buy a Kindle, you buy it for the books—not for the little “extras,” which are just another sneaky marketing ploy.
While it’s understandable that the whole e-book world is new to both booksellers and publishers, it’s usually the customers that end up with the short end of the stick. In an attempt to stop Amazon from having a monopoly on the e-book market, publishers created a different model for how novels were distributed to level the playing field. Instead of allowing the vendor to set book prices, publishers adopted a wholesale model and dictated costs to allow smaller book retailers a chance; however, this model obviously still needs some kinks worked out.
As an average consumer of the written word, I really don’t care how much I’m paying—as long as it’s reasonable. Ideally, it’d be great if it was for free and books were downloadable as a pdf file, but authors and publishers need to eat too. Besides: The starving artist thing is so 20th century.
Some e-books are priced higher than their paperback counterparts, and that’s just wrong. There’s no cutting of trees involved, no shipping and handling, no middleman to charge higher prices, so what’s the deal? I guess for now I’ll live in the dark ages and rely on an actual book instead of getting digitalized.
Why I’m still flipping through your copy of Cosmo
WHEN I FOUND out reading, or students’ apparent lack thereof, was the topic for this week’s online exclusive feature, I jumped at the chance to write my own response.
As a child, reading was my passion. My younger sister still holds it against me that I used to ignore her in favour of a good book, all the while telling her, “You’ll understand when you’re older; playing pretend just isn’t as fun as reading.” Sage wisdom from a nine year old. I used to average a book every two to three days, reading on the bus to and from school, reading during recess, reading before and after dinner, reading at my siblings’ athletic games.
Today, my main source of literature is textbooks, obviously. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a student for whom that’s not the case. But when I examine my reading habits a little more closely, it turns out that magazines come in a surprising second place.
And so I shall take this opportunity to dissect the literature that is magazines, and why, as a student, I chose them over other options.
1. Available and affordable
Magazines are everywhere. They’re at Mac’s, they’re at the public library, they’re on my roommate’s nightstand table. And they’re cheap. When you consider that you can get a couple hours of solid entertainment from a mag, the fact that they cost one third of the price of a movie ticket is impressive.
2. Sharing is caring
Magazines are easy to share. I pick up a Cosmo, I bring it to work, and by the end of the day chances are most of the ladies of the office—and a few of the men—have flipped through it and read at least an article or two. Furthermore, I’ve read an article or two from my co-workers’ copies of Glamour and Monocle.
3. Step away
Magazines can be digested as a whole. When I get a copy of Best Health, you better believe I devour it in one sitting. Each article is more captivating than the last, and when it only takes minutes to get through one, why stop? On the other hand, I can take a break whenever I feel like it.
There are a million, bazillion types of magazines out there. That is all.
5. A surviving industry
Sure, magazines are suffering like much print media. Lower subscription rates and ad revenues become problematic as the Internet becomes the go-to place for info and entertainment. But you know what? I don’t remember the last time I read something about magazines dying. In fact, I’ve seen new magazines popping up, and I’ve seen no decrease in the length, quality, and production of the ones I get regularly.
So, what’s your favourite magazine? Do you read them often, or are you mostly a connoisseur of cereal boxes and billboards? Let me know what you’re reading and when I can borrow it after you’re done.