Why college students need to read more than their textbooks

Reading outside of class increases empathy


Photo by Austin Mai

Lauren French ignores her coworkers and reads a book in The Spectator office.

Story by Lauren French, Copy Editor

When someone asks me which superpower I covet the most, my thoughts race straight to mind reading.

I usually feel guilty and say my second choice — time travel — because thoughts are the only truly private property humans have left. Who am I to take that refuge away?

But, let me tell you the closest thing I’ve found to mind reading: books.

Reading a book is guilt-free mind reading. The author, by publishing his or her book, has given you explicit permission to explore their inner imagination and thought process.

Exposure to these new perspectives, both the author and their characters’, expands your own ability to empathize with other people. In a way, that’s mind reading, too.

According to the New School for Social Research, those who read literary fiction are better able to understand the emotions of others compared to those who do not read literary fiction.

Empathy is an important quality now more than ever and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found empathy among college students has dropped by 40 percent since 1979. The last 10 years saw the steepest drop.

This is why we should strive to read more often, and not just our class textbooks.  Reading forces us to think from perspectives different from our own, which can translate into our daily lives.

This is not to say our college textbooks don’t broaden our horizons, because they absolutely do. My point is reading outside of classroom assignments is what really develops emotional and perceptual variety.

I like to try to read one book of my choosing per month, which usually fits in with my busy schedule. It may seem hard to make time for pleasure reading with a constant slew of assignments and extracurricular activities, but it’s easier than you think.

Once I stopped to evaluate the way I was spending my free time — Facebook, Instagram — I realized it’s easy to spend my 15-minute homework break reading a chapter in a book in lieu of an Elite Daily listacle.

And overall, this change in habit will provide long-term benefits our generation really needs. Let’s not fill our brains with “25 Struggles Only People Addicted to Diet Coke Will Understand,” and rather strive to fill them with foreign perspectives and understanding.

So grab your book or e-reader and start soaking it up — you’ll be glad you did.