Assigned Reading vs. Reading for Fun

Growing up, my favorite thing to do was read. I loved learning in general, but choosing an interesting story and getting lost in it was my favorite part of school and my favorite pastime. This is the main reason why I became an English major – reading has taken me to magical places and has taught me so much, and I want to be a part of the world of literature forever.

However, when I got to high school, I started getting assigned reading material in my English classes that wasn’t particularly my cup of tea. One of the first times this happened was when I had to read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I realize it’s a classic piece of literature, but I remember being so utterly bored by it that I vowed to never pick the book up again after I finished itI couldn’t connect with it, and I found it difficult to talk about during discussions.

I would rather have been reading something of my own choosing; I loved just “reading for fun.” I started getting frustrated with novels that were painful for me to get through and authors that weren’t connecting with me. I thought, what’s going to happen to my love for reading?

I knew that in college, I would not be able to choose books that I could read just for pleasure. So I started to really listen to different points of view in my English classes when we would discuss a book I didn’t really enjoy. I would learn about how my classmates saw things differently than I did, and I realized that the beauty of literature is not about just “reading for fun.”

Sure, some of us really enjoy reading, and there’s nothing better than picking up a book that takes you out of reality and takes you to a whole new world. But, as I learned in high school, you can take something away from every single piece of literature that you read if you’re willing to open your mind to new ideas. I may not love everything I read, but I can strive to appreciate good work. I didn’t love The Scarlet Letter, but it introduced me to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and now I really enjoy his short stories like “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “The Birthmark.”

I believe that reading is the best way to become more empathetic towards others. You can read about a character who is completely different than you or anyone you’ve ever met, and you can still learn to see things from their perspective and truly feel a connection with them. Becoming open-minded while reading something that may not have been my first choice is the best thing I could have done in this situation. On the surface, I could not relate to Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. But I learned to empathize with her, and I was able to see things from her point of view. You learn something from everything you read, and you may find a treasure in the story along the way.

Now, as a senior in college, my favorite part of studying English literature is the way we all can get something different out of a text. Something that speaks to me may say something different to you, and that’s great! We all open a book with different life experiences and different attitudes, so of course we’re going to see things differently. But these differences actually bring us closer together. The more we open our minds to new perspectives, new ideas, new genres, and new connections, the more we realize that reading for a deeper understanding of the world can be just as enjoyable as “reading for fun.”

Meredith Futrelle is a senior English major at the University of Mount Olive. She has lived in the town of Mount Olive her whole life. Futrelle is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society, and she works as an intern for UMO’s Public Relations department. In her spare time, Futrelle loves to read, watch movies, and spend time with her friends and family.

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