Fall semester of sophomore year, I was feeling pretty good about how things were going. I had finally finished my first round of required art studios, and had moved on to elective academics on Central Campus, a totally new world. I was both enthused and unsure about the workload, but ready to roll with it.
Then, at a mass meeting sometime in the first or second week of classes, I mentioned all the reading I had been assigned to a girl just starting her junior year. “It’s so interesting,” I told her, and meant it. She responded in kind, and then said in an off-hand way how she skimmed those very reading assignments I was just learning to love.
I tried not to show it, but I was both shocked and disappointed by her words. To hear an upperclassman, a student with a whole year more experience than me, dismissing her assigned reading so easily — it stung, especially since I’d made my mind up well before that conversation to read everything that was set before me, at least to the best of my ability. It hadn’t been a decision so much as it was a lifestyle choice — simply who I am. Reading — anything and everything — is just something I do. From the backs of snack packages to the copyright pages of books, I linger. I look. I do more than flip past the words to take in a general sense of their message. So when I walked away from that conversation sophomore year, I took it as a sort of dare. Skim, me? Hardly. I was going to ready everything I was given, word for word.
In a 2013 USA Today College article, Princeton undergrad Prianka Misra shares a similar stance toward reading. “I struggled with the idea of reading insincerely,” she says in the interview. “I actually want to be able to understand … but when you’re skimming you can’t really do that. You’re really just looking at the core points of an article and not really taking a greater in-depth look.”
To be fair, the workload of a 200-level course at Princeton is probably a bit different than what I’ve experienced in 200-level courses here at Michigan. I’m not sure I could read 200 pages for a class each week, word-for-word and diagram-for-diagram, the way Misra does. And even she admits that after a couple of years, the novelty she found in that kind of work ethic has started wearing off. “I can’t really afford to try to analyze a point if we’re not going to spend more than 10 minutes on it [in class],” she says. However, in favor of doing a full read, she believes “there is value to being able to summarize something, but there is also value to nitpicking and finding the small points you really take issue with or keenly going over each and every part of something for a more comprehensive understanding.”
Now a junior myself, I’m of the same mindset I was in at the beginning of sophomore year, but with a few more semesters of reading all the readings behind me. A couple of times, I even went so far as to continue reading from a book outside of class, simply because it was too interesting to put down until I reached the end. I’m not the kind of person who highlights passages or pauses to write out chapter summaries once I’m done with them and, unlike Misra, I don’t try to analyze the text as I go. But for the most part, I enjoy the process of reading, and what I can’t understand is when people simply don’t read. Not for classes, not for pleasure — among my friends and peers, many shirk the effort it takes to open the pages of a book and fall into the world held in place between them. This, to me, is crazy. For me, reading is what makes life interesting, and it never ends — there’s no shortage of new bestsellers, books made famous by their movie adaptations, and, oh yeah, assigned academic texts to lose myself in.
I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes doing the reading can be a little long-winded — sometimes it drags. Once in a while, other tasks call my name just a little too loudly to be ignored in favor of the reading I’ve been given. But what I love about reading these assigned pieces is that the time I spend on the task never feels wasted. Sure, sometimes I disagree with what an author’s saying, but isn’t that also a part of college — for our eyes to be opened up to new opinions? If so, this is one of the places I find it — chipping away at my reading in big chunks or little-by-little, on the bus, over meals, between classes. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as checking off each assigned chapter on my syllabus. And there’s no feeling quite like curling up with a good book — assigned or otherwise.
Susan LaMoreaux can be reached at email@example.com.