May 23, 2019 | 66° F

Reading is fundamental: It illuminates, inspires, informs


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Photo by Dustin Niles |

As the lines between the real world and the virtual world continue to blur, hobbies transition from analog to digital. For many people, hours of mindless Twitter scrolling and unhealthy amounts of Netflix binging have substituted more engaging and creative pastimes, like reading. 

Reading is a hobby that is neglected by many despite its benefits. Some of these benefits include a richer vocabulary, stronger analytical skills and a more active imagination. College students who aspire to be bookworms struggle to either find or make time for reading books, often citing the excuse of books’ inconvenience. But such excuses can be conquered by taking a few simple steps toward being more bibliophilic.

Richard Serrano, a professor of Comparative Literature and the chair of the Department of French, believes that reading needs to be prioritized as an interest. 

“There’s a way in which we can engage all of our senses with the written word. Reading demands attention. Since we live in a world where it’s so easy to be distracted, reading in and of itself is a good means of resisting distraction,” he said. 

Take a literature class

A major advantage of going to a research university like Rutgers is having access to a plethora of literature classes that cater to different majors and readers of varying levels of interest. Classes for the the Fall 2019 semester are out now, so it's a perfect time for students to focus on scheduling and being adventurous with their coursework.

In his course, “Past Today: Why Conflicts Endure,” Serrano explores different forms of mostly-translated literature from different cultures that allow students to become more familiar with global issues, languages and experiences. 

“I hope that students find my lectures interesting, so that even if they come to class unprepared, not having done the readings, they can go home and think: ‘Wow, that was fascinating. I need to do the reading now.’ I also think that courses like mine introduce students to writers from places that they otherwise don’t know anything about,” he said.

Download audiobooks

Lonely commutes and meals can be made more entertaining with the company of a good audiobook. Amazon’s hugely popular Audible application gives users access to a large selection of audiobooks for $14.95 a month. Some of the most listened-to Audible audiobooks are autobiographies: Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” and Tiffany Haddish’s “The Last Black Unicorn.” They're all narrated by their beloved authors, which makes the reader experience more intimate and enjoyable.

Watch, then read

This technique is a bit backward, as books are often precursors to their cinematic or television adaptations. Still, a quality film or show can often motivate a moviegoer to become a reader, as one can deeply analyze the differences between the two separate modes of storytelling. In this context, "reading between the lines" means readily visualizing the story that a book tells us from our experience with the same story on screen. Oscar-winning films like “BlacKkKlansman,” massive shows like “Game of Thrones” and Broadway musicals like “Be More Chill” are based on critically-acclaimed novels. 

Start small and experiment

Large books can be intimidating, so start with stories that are familiar or short. Less than 200 pages, classic novellas like Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis" and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” are complex in terms of content, but easy to read. 

Don’t feel pressured to limit yourself to novels on Bestseller and Must-Read Lists. Plays can also help you engage with literature from a theatrical perspective. Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie” are simple but beautiful works that can enthrall readers of any background. Annotated and abridged versions of Greek tragedies and Shakespearean plays are available at the Rutgers Libraries and sold cheaply online.

Serrano believes that we should take initiative and always be ready to read. “I always have something to read with me, either on my laptop or on my phone. Whenever I have some spare time, on airplanes, or when I’m taking the train to work or the bus to class, I read. If you make something important and available to yourself, then you’ll be able to do it with ease,” he said.


Rhea Swain

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