Octavia Butler, Shakespeare among personal reading recommendations for students

There is no doubt that as a student you are preparing for heavy reading loads, especially if you are studying English, but you should add a few more books to read for enjoyment.

Why? Well, first of all, you’d look pretty cool (and smart) reading a copy of Natalia Ginsburg’s “Family Lexicon” at lunch or Umberto Echo’s “Foucault’s Pendulum” on the University bus. from Albany. (I haven’t read those books, but I would think you were fascinating if I saw you doing it.)

And, second, third, and fourth, it would make you a better student, writer, and human in general.

In a 2011 study titled “Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure” for the Association of College and Research Studies, a division of the American Library Association, librarians Julie Gilbert and Barbara Fister looked on the “catastrophic news on reading.”

At the time, it was apparently at risk, showing a steep decline and “at risk, especially among young people”. The “digital born” generation “so enthralled by Facebook, texting and multi-channel stimulation that their attention span has shrunk to the size of a tweet.”

(If only we knew at the time what the state of social media would become.)

Yet the researchers were surprised by what they heard from students, who may not have much time to read, but enjoyed reading and welcomed recommendations from librarians.

“There is a compelling body of evidence that reading for pleasure is beneficial, not only for increasing literacy, but also because the information encountered in leisure reading informs readers about the world they live in and about themselves. themselves,” the authors wrote. “Reading for pleasure has been associated with creativity and improved academic achievement.”

I asked Brian Sweeney, an English teacher at Saint Rose College, what he thought of students who read for pleasure during the semester. ” I completely agree ! I find that students who read for pleasure are often the strongest writers. Of course, in this seemingly endless pandemic, students are facing increased pressures on many fronts. Sometimes finding the time to do the required reading is hard enough.

During the pandemic, Sweeney has looked outside his area of ​​expertise for his own downtime reading. “Personally, when it comes to reading for pleasure, as a scholar of the 19th and early 20th centuries, I find it easy for me to spend most of my reading life in this world. From the shutdown, I made a pact with myself to read a ton of fiction published in 2010 or later. It has proven to be a real lifesaver in many ways.

Sweeney teaches two courses this semester: “Comparative American Ethnic Literature: Black and Irish in America” ​​and “American Literature, Magazines, and Mass Prints, 1830-1920.”

For the first class, he is delighted to teach Frederick Douglass’ lesser-known second autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom” (1855), which includes Douglass’ reflections on his time in England and Ireland. This class also studies Kia Corthron’s new novel (2021) “Moon and the Mars”, which is set in pre-war New York. “It’s all told in the wonderfully engaging voice of a child narrator, Theo, a biracial orphan (Black American father, Irish American mother),” Sweeney said. “Corthron is amazing when it comes to dialogue: she’s a playwright as well as a novelist and has written for ‘The Wire’.”

His second course is a favorite to teach. “We delve into the digital archive to read ‘canonical’ literary texts as they originally appeared on the pages of 19th (and) early 20th century magazines.” The periodicals studied include “Harper’s”, “The Atlantic Monthly” and the “Saturday Evening Post”. Authors include Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kate Chopin.

Sometimes when I bought my own required reading books as a student at the University of Albany (class of 1988), I would peek at what other English classes were reading for a few fun reading suggestions. I recently passed by UAlbany’s bookstore and it brought back a lot of memories.

The staff had brilliantly leveraged TikTok’s marketing by creating a display of books made popular by videos on the platform.

I looked at what the teachers were assigning this year. There were plenty of old classics, like Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Then there were a few surprises, like Gary Shteyngart’s “Our Country Friends” (I guess the pandemic literature is starting to hit the shows).

Nice to see some Edith Wharton and “There There” by Tommy Orange. And I can’t go anywhere without seeing “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler, which is on my bedside table and is summer reading for freshmen at Skidmore College.

Skidmore requires all freshmen to read a book during the summer. Not only do they have something in common to talk about, but the school encourages reading outside the classroom. Luckily for us, Skidmore keeps a running list on their website for any bibliophile to check out. When my daughter (class of 2018) attended, she read “What Money Can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel.

And another benefit I just thought of: reading a little before bed is a great way to clear your head of all the noise in the world, both online and in real life. The other night I fell asleep reading Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful prose in “Oh William.”

About Jean R. Manzer

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