I recently noticed the growing stack of books on my desk and was overcome with disappointment and discouragement. There were now eight books stacked on top of each other, all of which I had started but not finished. The hardest part of acknowledging these books was that I actually enjoyed them all and still wanted to finish them. So why hadn’t I? 

During school breaks, visits home and especially during quarantine, reading is a hobby I turn to for learning, relaxation and escape. But when I returned to campus, I often found myself blaming my course load or social schedule for leaving me no time to read. After checking my daily screen time and discovering that, in the past week, I had been spending over two hours every day on social media and virtual entertainment applications such as Netflix and YouTube, I knew a lack of free time was not the problem. 

The importance and benefits of reading have been repeatedly praised, by both my teachers and my parents all throughout my upbringing. Still, I could count the number of friends I have that read consistently at the University of Michigan on one hand. According to a 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics study, reading for pleasure in the United States has decreased more than 30% since 2004 to a low of 19%. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress have increased in the student body. Ross sophomore Samantha Bakes, who began reading a chapter of a book every night before going to bed during quarantine, explained, “Reading has helped give me routine and also made me feel more purposeful. I read a lot of self-improvement books and books about religion so that I can try to focus on bettering myself instead of feeling defeated and helpless by things out of my control.” 

Research on the benefits of reading shows that leisurely reading can reduce symptoms of depression while improving overall well-being. There has also been a correlation found between lower levels of stress and reading for pleasure. While benefits also include a better understanding of self-identity, improved empathy, reductions of dementia symptoms and more, the advantages are much more likely to be seen when the reading is for pleasure. Reading assignments for school or work do not provide the same benefits as a book you choose yourself. 

LSA sophomore David Kinane, who claims to have not read for pleasure since middle school, expressed that he feels as though “reading is a time investment that does not guarantee enjoyment since I might not like the book. It is much more likely that I will like a YouTube video so it is easier to do that.” 

Choosing a book to read can feel like a larger commitment and risk than watching videos. However, the satisfaction of finishing a good book or chapter is personally much more rewarding. Further, people who use technology before going to bed instead of reading report less sleep and are more likely to feel the need to find time to sleep during the day. 

Relaxing and unwinding before going to bed is a large part of most people’s daily routine. The form of entertainment you choose impacts your sleep, contributing to mental health and overall well-being. LSA sophomore Anna Haase explained, “I feel like you get a different type of entertainment than from movies or television because it’s more intellectually stimulating and there is more to get out of it.”

Both Haase and Bakes shared that they complete all of their school readings, which takes them around four hours a week. Neither generally struggle with school readings unless it happens to be an especially boring textbook chapter. On the other hand, Kinane explained that though he should be doing four hours of reading for school each week, he usually spends less than ten minutes a day on course work readings. 

Reading is shown to improve attention span and is a skill that can be improved by reading more. By reading more for pleasure on topics that you are interested in, your language and interpretation skills can improve, and the practice can help with actual academic assigned readings, easing the stress and overwhelming feelings that long reading lists often bring students. 

Making the effort to incorporate reading for pleasure this semester into your daily life may improve aspects of student life and health that the pandemic has worsened. Developing habits takes time but reading a chapter or flipping through book pages for 15 minutes a day is a small and accomplishable step that can make a large impact on your semester.

Lizzy Peppercorn can be reached at epepperc@umich.edu.

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