June 7, 2018 — Belmont Citizen-Herald
I could not have been happier. My daughter had come home to spend a few days after completing the last final exam of her first year at Suffolk Law School. I hadn’t seen her much one day, so I tapped on the guest room door and stuck my nose in one evening to see how she was doing. She was curled up on the couch, softly snoring, with a half-read mystery novel clutched to her stomach. Clearly, she had quickly traded in her torts and contracts for an Irish police officer tracking down clues to some gruesome murder. I closed the door with a smile and tip-toed away.
My contentment arose because I had recently been reading an article reporting that “large-scale surveys by the National Endowment for the Arts show that reading has been declining in popularity for a couple of decades, particularly in the college-aged population.” Not only do today’s students more frequently succumb to the allure of watching Netflix and YouTube, but young people who experience heavy reading loads for classes are increasingly rebelling at the notion that one might actually pick up a book for “fun” in their spare time.
Class of 2018, I encourage you to buck this trend as you move away from your Belmont High experience. As you move on to college, I encourage you to make some time each week, indeed each day, for recreational reading. The NEA reviewed a set of studies about the reading habits of young adults. It reported that “the results are startling in their consistency. . .There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans.” According to the NEA, “nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.” It continued to report that “65% of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all.” Ouch.
This trend merits active resistance. As one Villanova University writer observes, reading for pleasure is “as healthy a habit as opting for fruit over French Fries, because in doing so, we nourish our minds and enrich our lives in ways that we can’t yet anticipate.”
The NEA reports that “reading is an irreplaceable activity in developing productive and active adults as well as healthy communities.” People who read more attend more concerts and theatre than non-readers. Readers exercise more and attend more sporting events. They vote more often and volunteer more frequently. In fact, the data shows that recreational reading will help you succeed in your job. Frequent readers are without question better writers, and employers of all types list “skill at written communication” as one of the top attributes they seek in new hires. While the NEA acknowledges that studies do not establish a cause-effect relationship, they do establish that “reading has played a decisive factor. Whether or not people read, and indeed how much and how often they read, affects their lives in crucial ways.” According to NEA, “all of the data combine to tell the same story. . .”
So, my counsel to you? Always make room in that over-stuffed backpack for a recreational book. Be a frequent visitor to your campus library, not merely to peruse a textbook, but to pick up a good novel as well. Sneak in some time each day, each week, to read for no reason other than the pleasure of following the story. For example, following the exploits of Dr. Gideon Fell and his locked room mysteries (written by John Dickson Carr) are always interesting adventures.
Class of 2018. Your community could not be prouder of you as a Belmont High graduate. Your Belmont education has prepared you well for the journey ahead, wherever that might lead. Your friends, family, neighbors, indeed the entire community, wish for you all the success and happiness that life might bring.