Be a better reader

The benefits of a good book cannot be ignored

Emy Wood

College students don’t read. Actually, that’s a lie. College students do read—they just don’t read what they want. And, when students actually pick up their assigned readings an hour before class, most slide by, skimming the bare minimum.

“A lot of times in class we get assigned books we don’t want to read,” said Alan Garcia, sophomore English major. “But when I pick out books, reading is enjoyable and it becomes easier.”

Between midterms and research papers, it’s not hard to see why finding time to actually sit down and appreciate reading is little to none. But students should make cracking open a book not filled with chemistry equations a priority, if even for a few minutes.

Doubtful of the benefits of reading? Research has shown that reading not only boosts analytical thinking and enhances memory, but it can also help prevent Alzheimer's and make you more engaged in life. These sound like wins for both health and happiness.

Garcia, who doesn’t consider himself a bookworm, said he finds creativity and entertainment in reading. “It’s fun to watch movies, but 10 people can watch a movie and see the same image. If 10 people were to read a book, they’re going to have a different image in their mind.”

These varying images can have astounding benefits. Neuroscientists report that the storytelling aspect of reading engages a broad spectrum of brain regions which enhance connectivity and improve function. In other words, imagination is powerful.

So powerful that many readers see books as an escape from reality to experience other perspectives. “Reading enables me to travel. I get to travel across the centuries and across the continents,” said English professor and author Chris Blake. “It deepens and broadens me. And, it’s better for my writing. The whole ‘word thing’ takes root.”

Think about it. The more words you’re exposed to, the greater your vocabulary. The total number of words read annually by a person who reads 15 minutes a day? One million. That’s a lot of word things.

Aside from expanding one’s knowledge, reading can be relaxing. One study shows that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68 percent. “The relaxing part is that it gets me away,” said library director Sabrina Riley, who often finds herself reading five books at once. “It helps me destress. It’s part of my coping mechanisms.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that neverending BuzzFeed lists or your best friend’s social media drama count as imaginative, self-edifying reading. The deep reading of literature differs from the the information-driven reading done online.

While a good TMZ article may be needed every once in a while, the immersive experience of reading a novel or a piece of creative nonfiction engages the mind in ways that allow for those stress-reducing and brain-enhancing capabilities to occur.

Finding ways to make time to read can be difficult. To dive into a book of their choice, students may have to wait until fall break or in between semesters. But in the meantime, take a few extra minutes to appreciate assigned readings. Your brain—and your grades—will thank you.

This week, I challenge you to take just 15 minutes a day, whether as a study break, before bed or during lunch, to read. The rush of a good story may be just what you need.    

Struggling with understanding the text? Try out these tips:

Break it up. “Don’t read it all at once,” said Garcia. “Yes, it will happen when we procrastinate, but then we get overwhelmed. You have to take it a little bit at a time.”

Engage with the words. “Read more than once and dialogue with the text,” said Blake. Not only will this interaction keep you from falling asleep, but it increases your odds of acing a pop quiz.

Enhance your people skills. “The more you know, the more you can help people,” said Riley. You never know when knowledge of the Ming Dynasty may be the encouragement your roommate needs to face her A&P exam.

Emy is a sophomore studying communication.