By Aaron Shaykevich, Editor-in-Chief
I’ve always felt that the nature of the readings and book reports assigned to middle and high school students cause an unintended side effect: students disliking reading. Being required to read a story you aren’t interested in, write a summary about it, and give some sort of opinion you couldn’t care less about just reinforces the idea that reading is a “school activity.” When the motivation behind doing an assignment is solely to get a good grade, it no longer becomes enjoyable, or even meaningful. It’s a shame that many students and adults dislike a medium by which humankind has communicated for hundreds of years. The book is powerful but often unappreciated.
One misconception about books is that they require a lesson, or that the lesson is the most important reason to read. Whether it be a clear “moral of the story” or subtle hints of something greater hidden within its sentences, any course in literature assumes that books have some greater meaning worth searching for. Many courses ask students to analyze more intricate details of a story, down to the word choice of an author, making students ask why an author wrote specifically the way that they did. What gets lost in that line of thinking is that many books, many fiction pieces in particular, can be written simply to be a story, to make you feel something with no lesson intended by the author.
But that isn’t to say there is no reason to read.
The book has a more powerful purpose than being a conduit for “lessons.” Just as a movie has the power to transport us to a new world, a book can transport us to a new way of viewing the world. Each author is unique. Descriptions of the same idea or concept can be written very differently depending on the author. Combining creative descriptions with each fiction author’s vision of their fictional universe, every book is unique. Each one has its own distinctive power to change how we think, even if just slightly. This doesn’t require any lesson or underlying message of the book. By just existing and reading, you gain a new perspective. The subconscious, the way you think and view the world, expands, all through passive reading.
Watching Netflix TV shows for your fix of fiction and documentaries for your nonfiction education might work. But think about the key element lost in that medium: the only voice in your head is your own, interpreting the visuals you see before you. In order to put aside the biases that are deep within your subconscious, you need to see how others think. This is best done by the book, and by the author who writes it.
We leave college with the education we are taught, but critical thinking must be attained on our own. Reasoning right and wrong cannot be summarized by formal education (sorry, philosophy majors). In order to do so, please, pick up a book this winter break. Choose one on a topic that interests you, or on something you know nothing about, or even just a “pointless” story. No grades, no essays, just you and the author.