To celebrate Read Across America Day this past Saturday, Americans everywhere put down their tablets and picked up a book. And they did it not only to celebrate another Dr. Seuss birthday, but also to try and rekindle a lost hobby.
But of these Americans, how many of them were college students? Well, while we don’t have any exact numbers on that, actual numbers might well be underwhelming.
When faced with the idea of picking up books on their own time, many students duck the topic entirely or take the question rhetorically. After all, students do plenty of reading as it is on the instruction of their professors, who don’t hesitate to “recommend” their favorites. However their choices are not exactly the kind of books you get lost in.
Instead, most of the reading students do in college involves instructions and examples, facts and records, and texts you’d be hard-pressed to find any Seussian charm in. And combine that with the never-ending carousel of subject after subject on a nightly basis, and many students are quick to forget what charm they’ve ever seen in reading, until eventually “reading” becomes “going through the motions” for chapters on end.
Turn page, highlight, dog-ear, repeat.
When students avoid books outside of those they have to read, it’s not as much due to a hatred for reading. It’s more a knee-jerk reaction they have to the long hours and short attention spans they associate with reading. And even though it seems like an idea that should sell itself, many of today’s students could use a reminder of reading’s benefits.
Books are a proven exercise for the brain more than anything; and for the student population, improving memory, vocabulary, and creativity is an especially important goal. Routinely reading a book makes the learning of new words and ideas more painless, as readers immerse themselves in different diction and different stories. “Plain language,” for example, which is the words that are permanently forged in our long-term memory, grows with reading and becomes increasingly effortless to process the more you do it. This increases the speed at which you can read and improves how well you “skim” through information and actually retain it.
Also, varying what you read by adding fiction and essays to your textbook regimen improves how well you find the main points in textbooks and class materials, and how you draw your own meaning from texts. After you graduate, too, how much you read now can still have a say in your sharpness. When you have a book you’re reading at all times, the images and ideas you form about it resurface every time you pick that book up, which is a beneficial practice for your long-term memory. In class and later at work, this process can make the solutions you form about what you read and what you encounter easier to remember and “file” so that your brain can keep track of more obligations at once.
Aside from their objective benefits, books are, if nothing else, one of the few remaining resources for authentic satisfaction. In a time where gratification is expected to be instant, books still have something to tell those that are willing to listen, and will for as long as they’re around. So take advantage. Whether it’s a bestseller, or old classic, or whatever your roommate has to recommend, pick up a book to read just for fun and watch as the studying and stress of college is eased. Even if it’s just one book to celebrate Dr. Seuss, it could spark a new hobby.
Source: Heli Numminen (2002). Working memory in adults with intellectual disability.
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