The power of reading for pleasure

Rachel Chistyakov

Voices Editor

Between reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and American Judaism by Jonathan Sarna, I asked myself if I would have ever read these books outside of school. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a highly acclaimed, highly controversial, and absolutely necessary book for any American student to read while American Judaism is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read in a Jewish studies class. There are several books that I wish I could be reading that other classes require reading, such as The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. But if students had not been required to write essays on these books for a grade, would they be reading them? Would they even know about them?

Recently, I’ve begun reading books for my own pleasure, but with a twist. My SAT tutor has repeatedly told me to keep reading books to reference in my essays and help broaden my vocabulary. Is this why these books were written? And why have I received this advice so late? Only a few weeks ago did I finish reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and yet I feel like I’m behind. I suddenly feel overwhelmed by the selection of books that are hidden in the Milken library and the Tarzana/Encino library. I feel rushed to read as many books as I possibly can due to my burning interest in them. But if I were never introduced to some of the best classical books ever written, would I ever have experienced this passion to read? Would I ever visit the library?

In ninth grade, I read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In tenth grade, I read the three Theban plays by Sophocles and Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In all honesty, I was never as passionate about reading during those years as I am today; I remember getting a C+ on my Catcher in the Rye essay because I couldn’t understand the material. Like Millie in Fahrenheit 451, I spent most of my time watching television instead of investing my time in reading books. Every teenager comes to a point when he or she finally turns off the TV and visits the library, and I feel that, lately, this point in a teenager’s life has been greatly deferred. I wish I had become interested in reading last year or even the year before, and I wish I had known about all of the wonderful books that I could have been reading. I tried to think of why I’m such a late bloomer–maybe it’s because the shows on TV are so addicting to watch, or maybe it’s because I never had the time to devote to reading. But what was I using my time for anyway? Slacking off? Staring off into space?

This realization came to me when I had finished reading Fahrenheit 451. What if it became illegal to read books, and, if you were caught reading a book, you would be sent to a mental hospital? What if every library were burnt down, every university shut down, every teacher fired, every scholar and philosopher hunted? What if the books we are now required to read in our English classes were the last books we would ever hold? Would this change the perspective of every teenager? If books were banned, would they become more intriguing? Politicians have burnt books, schools have banned books, and authors fight to have their books published; books are a big deal.