The last book managerial economics major Kiyan Parsa read for fun was The Lord of the Rings. That was in high school.
Parsa is now a graduating senior.
“It’s not like I don’t want to read,” Parsa was quick to clarify. “I just don’t have free time. With all of my classes, there’s not a lot of room.”
Parsa is not alone. Though reading textbooks and articles is high on many UC Davis students’ to-do lists, reading books purely for pleasure? Not so much.
A 2007 study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts found that in 2005, 65 percent of college freshmen said they read little or nothing for pleasure. Among adults, only 38 percent said they had read a book for pleasure the previous day.
Students frequently cited intense course loads and a lack of “free time” as reasons why they rarely read books purely for fun, a position UC Davis English professor Matthew Stratton sympathized with.
“The quarter system does seem jam-packed, and as tuition goes up, funding becomes more of an issue and affects free time,” Stratton said.
For sophomore environmental science and management major Rebecca Douglas, reading for pleasure is simply not an option during the school year. The last book she read for fun was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which she re-read before the latest Harry Potter film was released.
“During the school year, I don’t have time. There’s so much other reading to do,” Douglas said. “Over breaks and summer vacation I will read, though. It is nice to be able to sit down and read.”
The perception that reading books not only takes too much time but is also less accessible than watching videos or surfing the Internet was common among students. Books may seem more challenging to digest and require more attention than online articles and videos.
“Videos are so much more accessible, especially with Netflix. You can search for movies and watch them instantly, instead of going to the library and getting a book,” said junior biochemistry major Thomas Cayton.
And yet, pleasure reading is not completely dead at UC Davis. Once a month, 15 to 20 students gather to discuss the latest selection of the UC Davis Book Club, a student-run group dedicated to providing book suggestions and a forum for discussion among those with a passion for reading.
Junior microbiology major Jose Ramirez began attending book club meetings with his first-year roommate. His roommate stopped going, but Ramirez didn’t.
“I love books that inspire me. In college, I need a lot of inspiration,” said Ramirez, whose favorite author is Mitch Albom. “It’s hard for me, too. Sometimes I feel bad, like I should be reading my biology book. But I feel like sometimes I need a break from sciences, and the only literature I get now is in the book club.”
Members vote on a book of the month, which is then offered at a discount at the UC Davis Bookstore. Club members discuss their latest book at meetings, but Ramirez said reading the book is not mandatory to attend meetings. This month, the club is reading the 2011 Campus Community Book Project selection, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Stratton said while he often finds it difficult to get students to do the assigned reading, let alone read for pleasure, he finds that the students interested in engaging with the world are most likely to be readers.
“The better students do remark upon reading books, but that’s hardly a representative sample – these students are the ones coming to office hours and are people who have an intellectual curiosity,” Stratton said. “The most talented students in English classes are not necessarily English majors.”
Stratton wondered why a student unsure if they should pick up a book for fun would be in college in the first place. There are books young people can enjoy on any subject – not just Harry Potter, he advised.
“I have nothing against Harry Potter, but the pleasures to be had from Harry Potter are not the only pleasures to be gained from reading,” Stratton said. “There are people in college reading books my 13-year-old niece put down because it ceased to be challenging.”
Despite a busy schedule of classes, junior Asian American studies and psychology double major Lisa D’Asaro recently finished the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, which she borrowed from a friend and read in a matter of days.
“I haven’t really been reading throughout college, but I borrowed the books from a friend and I’m making time,” D’Asaro said. “And, it helps me with my procrastination.”
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.