As the specter of midterms looms ever closer, the last thing on many students’ minds is putting away notes, sitting down and spending some quality time with a novel. Actually, that statement can be broadened. Fiction’s low priority status for most students is not just constrained to the weeks around exam time: it’s lifelong and unchanging. There exists an idea that because pleasure reading is neither homework nor a resume-booster, it is not worth doing. Busy students see no benefit to cracking open a non-required novel in their spare time. While admittedly time is always short, homework is always long and Netflix is always calling, students ought to take a few breaks for fiction. Fiction is beneficial, culturally significant and just as importantly, plain old fun.
The benefits of reading fiction for pleasure might be hard to see from a distance, but upon closer observation they abound. For one, reading fiction for fun gives people the obvious reward of getting to absorb information without having to analyze it, critique it or deconstruct it. After years of having to read almost exclusively for discussion groups and essays, it is easy to lose passion for reading. Incorporating a splash of enjoyable fiction into a reading list can help break up the workload of heavy academic texts and might help disassociate discomfort from the act of reading. In addition to providing simple gratification for readers, literary fiction, according to research studies, can improve people’s capacity for empathy. There is a marked difference in the way information is portrayed in a textbook and in a novel. For instance, the way race is discussed in “Americanah,” through rich and layered anecdotes, is different than the way it might be discussed in a peer-reviewed journal article. And the way we internalize themes like race are different when we associate them with a character. For historical proof, consider Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The book, by forcing readers to follow the painful and emotional journey of Uncle Tom, a strong-willed slave, undyingly faithful to his principles and friends, transformed 19th century views on slavery in the North in a way that no tome of social science ever could have. Fiction allows people to push past biases and consider concepts they might not otherwise have exposed themselves to. With its intricacies, fiction can tell stories that nonfiction cannot.
Powerful and worthwhile as fiction might be, many students still face the legitimate problem of how to fit it into a tightly packed schedule. Finding and reading books takes time. Thankfully, the problem of finding books has been made negligible by the internet. Multiple organizations, among them NPR and The New York Times, maintain lists and rankings of books tailored for specific interests; finding a new book from the comfort of a dorm takes no more than two minutes and a smartphone. The problem of time can also be defeated. The 20 minutes before sleep are best spent away from screens. By giving up a daily block of Instagram or Netflix time, students will suddenly find themselves with space in their schedule to make reading a ritual. For the truly indefatigable midnight to midnight studiers, fiction “reading” can even be carried out by medium of audio book and headphones while on the C1.
In a world that can seem crazy and scary, reading fiction for fun offers not only an escape, but a way to grow oneself into the type of person who can fix things. We would all do well to find time for novels.
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