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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The adventure of reading doesn’t necessitate Charles Dickens

    Let’s begin this opinion with a quote the Daily Wildcat engagement editor would call “on brand.”

    Neil Gaiman said: “Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.”

    That quote comes from a lecture Gaiman gave on Oct. 14, 2013 for the Reading Agency. It is probably one of my favorite speeches of his because it hits so deeply and remains so relevant, and I highly encourage any and all reading this to read it. It’s as beautiful as the short fiction he writes and conveys my feelings better than I ever could.

    There are probably few other subjects on which I am more biased than reading and books and storytelling. I’m a creative writing major, an artist and journalist, which should clue you in to several key facets of my person: I live to write, I indeed love to read and I will wax poetic about these two traits at any given opportunity.

    Reading is my life — but it doesn’t seem to be anyone else’s.

    In my experience, nobody except other students in the English department and a precious few others seem to love reading as much as I do. Even my littlest sister hates reading.

    We always had to push her to read until I was inspired by an English professor of mine to introduce her to comic books.

    It surprised me that I was reading comic books in a course dedicated to literary analysis because grade school curriculum generally shuns them for lack of “literary merit.”

    I was pleased because I loved comics. I knew innately that comic books could be subject to the same analysis and criticism as books and movies, but was nonetheless aware that comic books have long been considered the opposite of literature.

    Since then, I have wondered why people hate reading, where the hatred comes from and whether there is a way to convince people that reading is fun? I managed to convince my sister, anyhow.

    In 2012, Stanford News reported that Stanford University researchers studied the MRI scans of study participants who read during the procedure. The research team found evidence that strongly suggested reading “requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions” and that close reading and pleasure reading created unique but separate patterns in the brain.

    Here is a simple translation: Reading for pleasure is just as good for you as reading for education, just in different ways.

    And the former is certainly more entertaining.

    In a 2001 article by Rocco Versaci, an English professor at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., Versaci described four reasons why his students held reading in disdain: “literature makes us think about ‘big ideas,’ literature is difficult, literature is boring, literature is something that people have decided was ‘good’ or ‘important.”

    When asking his students how they came to believe these things about literature, Versaci found that these stigmas are planted by elementary, middle and high school teachers, or “where they first engaged in the formal and formative study of literature.”

    In other words, by holding the “literary canon” to higher standards, educators perpetuate the assumption that literature is something deemed worthy, not something simply written.

    Versaci understood that students today grow up surrounded by constantly evolving types of media, so the category of works taught in classrooms is often boring and irrelevant. But he discovered the same phenomenon I saw in my sister when introducing comic books to the academic setting.

    “But by placing a comic book — the basic form of which they no doubt recognize — into the context of a classroom, teachers can catch students off guard in a positive way, and this disorientation has, in my experience, led students to become more engaged by a given work,” Versaci wrote.

    Versaci and I share the same philosophy about reading: It is integral to human experience, beneficial to the mind and always personal.

    I was introduced to reading not by my teachers, but my mom, who read “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” to me. What my sister’s teachers could never accomplish was getting her to read, but since introducing her to comic books, she reads almost as much as I do. It’s a different genre, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.

    All this is to prove one infallible truth: Nobody truly hates reading. They only hate what they’ve been forced to read.

    Nobody enjoys reading something they hate. I can’t stand reading legalese or anything about art history. I never seek out poetry at a bookstore, and I absolutely refuse to read Charles Dickens. I read a few chapters of “Great Expectations” and hated it. But everybody has at least that one book they actually enjoyed.

    The assumption — which many of my peers in the English department are guilty of — that there is a “correct” way of reading and a “correct” genre of literature, is problematic at best and harmful to the learning process at worst.

    In truth, I’d like more people to talk to about books. I’d like more people to read for entirely selfish reasons. Reading is the greatest adventure, short of traveling the entire universe if you can find the right book, and I want more people to experience it.

    Read your comics, read your fiction, read your so-called “trashy” romance novels if you so choose. Ignore the things that make your head fill with lead and find something you enjoy.

    The Tucson Festival of Books is coming up, and when it arrives, there’s no better time for those of you who have horrid reading experiences to make like Bilbo Baggins and go on an adventure. Because I don’t want you to tolerate reading. I want you to love it.

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