Over spring break, I read Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” for essentially the first time. I say “essentially” because I began reading it over winter break, but ended up putting it down when I got back to school because I was immediately bombarded with tests, papers and the like.

Leah Potkin

However, I ended up having to read the bestseller for a course. While reading for class, I was able to get caught up in the story, emoting at the proper times and feeling a great sense of connection with the characters. And while my reactions to the novel were normal enough, I couldn’t help but reflect on my reading style as I turned the pages of the text, eager to see what would happen next.

What I came to realize was that whenever I read something for a class or for an academic purpose, I couldn’t help but read critically. My style shifts away from naïve and unassuming and toward analytical. For better or for worse, it alters my relationship with the text and mentally keeps me on my toes.

The concept of reading critically versus reading for pleasure is something I have been studying in one of my classes and has led me to explore and examine my personal reading habits. I’ve discovered, contrary to what I’d expected, I get more fulfillment and enjoyment from my critical reading than I do from my vacation-style reading.

In fact, I encourage all students to take a step back and examine how they read. I truly think that understanding how we read can greatly enhance the benefits and enjoyment of reading itself.

I can pinpoint my own experience with “The Kite Runner” as evidence. When I began reading the book over winter break, I read carelessly for the sole purpose of mindless enjoyment. And, while there’s nothing wrong with this approach — after all, I was on vacation — I found when I went back to it from where I had left off only a few short weeks before, I could hardly remember character names or major plot themes — embarrassing, I know.

Intrigued, I went back to review some of the books I’d read for class before an exam, and discovered I had no trouble remembering the same information I had so easily forgotten when I wasn’t reading critically.

From this experience, it seems that unlike pleasure reading, during which most people are merely looking for interesting plots or characters to entertain them while idling away time on the beach or trying to fall asleep, critical reading forces people to become more involved in all aspects of a book. Critical readers seek, among other things, the author’s perspective, the book’s distinguishing features and the book’s relevance to the general topic being taught by the assigning professor.

When critically reading “The Kite Runner,” I found myself marking or re-reading certain passages in an effort to comprehensively understand their significance and consider their relevance — something I can never remember doing when reading on the beach. This deeper immersion left me with an enhanced appreciation of the book’s message and overall better understanding of the issues raised.

I would venture to say that as students at a prestigious university, it’s in our nature to read critically when reading for class. We all strive to succeed, and in doing so, we read with the purpose of extracting information and applying it later — often only for exams, mind you.

But it seems this increasingly academic critical reading approach has its benefits inside and outside the classroom. At least in my recent experience with “The Kite Runner,” critically I realized that books ranging from great novels like Hosseini’s to what some would call trashy “beach reads” are more enjoyable when read through a slightly critical lens. Not to mention, as we’re presented with countless reading materials every day, reading critically is vital in order to extract the important information from sources that aren’t already tweet-length.

This might all sound a bit abstract, but ultimately there is pedagogical value in critically reading texts of all sorts, and students should capitalize on their abilities to hone in on texts for more than just the sake of a good grade or a classroom discussion. In my experience, it certainly makes for a far more interesting, if not enlightening, reading experience both inside and outside the classroom.

Leah Potkin can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @LeahPotkin.

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