According to a recent survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, American adults are not reading literature. Only 43 percent of American adults read short stories, poems, plays or novels last year, down from approximately 45 percent in 2014.
Interestingly, Americans’ interest in reading has steadily increased in the last few years. Our interest in literature, however, continues to decrease.
And why should we read literature? As college students, it seems we have more than enough to read for our classes — novels, textbooks, scientific reports, academic papers. Why should we set aside time to read Shakespeare or Hemingway when most of us hardly have enough time to keep up on this week’s class readings?
Here are three reasons why college students, in particular, should read literature, even occasionally.
1. It makes you smarter
When we read a novel, play or poem, we absorb a lot of information simultaneously. We think about the plot or narrative, the characters, the setting; we recognize foreshadowing and symbolism and we determine the meanings of unfamiliar words from their contexts.
In short, when we read literature, we do a lot of thinking.
Even better, because a majority of us grew up reading, we don’t have to think about most of this thinking we’re doing: it comes naturally. If we read more frequently and try to understand what we read, we are better equipped to gain insight into the feelings and motives of the people around us and to think of creative solutions to problems.
2. It makes you more interesting
Let’s face it: very few of us will have the opportunity to travel the world. Very few of us will ever visit Paris, sail across the Atlantic or go on a safari.
Sound discouraging? No problem.
When we read literature, we can experience whatever we choose. We can take a road trip across the United States with Dean Moriarity or travel through Spain with Jake Barnes.
Sure, reading about it isn’t quite the same as experiencing it in real life, but it can help us be more imaginative and make our daily lives a little more extraordinary.
3. It makes you a better person
Most of what’s considered great literature is challenging — not necessarily because it’s hard to read, but because it’s hard to think about. A lot of it is filled with serious ethical problems.
Unlike religious texts or books on moral philosophy, literature takes these problems and thrusts them into real life, making them more immediate and, sometimes, unsettling. That is, we’re forced to think about them in concrete rather than abstract terms.
This can help us do the right thing — or, at least, think about what may be the right thing to do — when we’re confronted with ethical problems in our daily lives.