The Joy of Reading

Fresh off of another writing jag, I set another monograph down on the end table. It’s a good read and I’m reluctant to put it down, but there was dinner to be made and family to enjoy.

I have a lot of books on the go. There are five inter-library loan books, four other academic books borrowed from the university library, two academic ebooks I’ve been reading on the library website, four paperbacks I picked up at the used bookstore the other weekend and still about a half dozen waiting to be read on my Kindle. I have a university office that’s got three walls filled with shelves and those shelves filled with books. And, yes, I’ve read pretty much all of them except for a few newcomers and a few gifted books I’ve yet to read. In my bedroom closet, three further stacks of histories of medieval aristocracy and Byzantium patiently wait for me to finish with one pop culture and history chapter so I can start on the other chapter and read them.

I wonder, sometimes, how much my students read, even before it comes to textbooks and term time. Do they love reading? You’d think that history majors ought to be voracious readers because even if they don’t rely on printed sources, that’s still how we roll when it comes to the professional literature. But I wonder. Some of them are clearly readers: they respond eagerly when I mention a classic text they’ve read or allude to a piece of popular fiction that relates to our class topic. They pull their nose out of a book when it’s time for class to begin and dive back in when they’re out in the hallway. Others never drop a clue about their reading habits: they don’t carry books with them but, even more disturbing, they don’t want to discuss the readings, even on the most elementary of levels.

I eye the schedule for my classes with a chary eye. Surely seniors in a seminar won’t be gobsmacked when the weekly readings occasionally run up to eighty pages (small, Penguin Classics paperback pages at that)? A chapter a week in the freshman Western Civ survey isn’t too onerous, especially given how lucidly the textbook’s written and with the wealth of illustrations to liven the tedium any might find in the text. I prepare discussion questions to start off every class period that include “hooks” from the assigned readings, so students will see the connection between our time in class and their reading tasks outside of the eighty minute time block. It may not inspire a love of reading (I wish I could work that kind of miracle), but at least I hope it will make the reading relevant.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to finish reading!

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