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Martinez: Students’ lack of reading shouldn’t be shamed

Marissa Martinez, Assistant Opinion Editor

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In a recent column titled “Literature is burning out with devastating consequences,” the writer argues that our current generation’s general disdain for reading is alarming. While I share some of the author’s sentiments, I don’t think reading should be forced — I hope more students find reading in their own enjoyable way.

Reading has been a refuge for me since I was a toddler. I remember being a precocious kindergartner reading out loud to other students in my class. Growing up, I used to bring my library books everywhere: the car, the dining table (until they were taken away) and even the bathroom while I brushed my teeth. I am blessed to have educators for parents; they really value literacy, and had the time to support my habit and dreams of becoming a writer — trips to the library with my father were more frequent than travels to the park or movie theater.

Once I entered high school, this started to change. I got a smartphone and Netflix privileges when I was in eighth grade, and spent more time online. By the time I reached senior year, my stacks and stacks of books had dwindled to a few novels scattered around my room.

It wasn’t because I suddenly couldn’t stand reading. It was a matter of circumstance: I came home exhausted from homework, basketball and newspaper, and no longer had the energy to do more than scroll through Buzzfeed or watch a few TV episodes.

As much as it pains me to admit it, social media is a faster and easier way for me to relax than reading is, especially on a busy college campus. It’s not realistic for me to plow through a whole series in a few days anymore. Do I feel bad about this? Of course. But I don’t think a “generational” disdain for reading should be shamed.

Reading has been turned into a sort of “saving grace” by older generations — it seems like people are constantly saying, “If more ‘youths’ just read more books, the world’s problems would be solved.” Coming from a group of people who already blame younger citizens for killing things like bar soap and diamonds, statements like these make not reading seem almost counter-culture.

I would love for everyone to enjoy books as much as I do. But there are truths we should accept — study after study shows our generation is busier and more stressed out than ever. Especially at Northwestern, students pack their schedules and don’t have the time to do more than listen to music or watch TV during a given weekday break. It doesn’t help that a lot of us have gone through harrowing high school English or history classes that promoted the more academic, less “fun” parts of reading.

Yes, like the author writes, reading is an outlet that “teaches life lessons, improves memory and logical thinking, and stimulates ingenuity.” Books have held these values in my life forever, and I will always support more literacy, especially in my younger cousins.

But by shaming students for not reading J.D. Salinger or George Orwell (which is not a bad thing! Not all authors and genres are for everyone), the author pushes the narrative that reading is dry and older, and that newer styles and books are less legitimate.

We should be grateful that there are new ways to gain information, in addition to the wide variety of innovative books being published every day. Sure, fewer people may know William Faulkner than did in the 1920s, but we should encourage reading of all kinds. Previous generations have balanced reading with the new “distractions” of radio, televisions or computers. Moving forward, ours will naturally have to do the same.

Marissa Martinez is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at marissamartinez2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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