Read a Book: Form a Relationship

“No story comes from nowhere; new stories are born from old —  it is the new combinations that make them new.”

~Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories

When we step into the role of a college student, all at once we assume a multitude of duties: a constant stream of homework, rigorous planning, and preparation for exams, the extracurricular balancing act. Add in sporadic meal routines with late-night laundry sessions and you perhaps emerge with a precious hour that you reserve once or twice a week for re-energizing with your favorite Netflix show.

I’d like to offer a suggestion.

I’ve had a deep love for reading my entire life. I have laughed out loud from a character’s wit and cried shamelessly from the loss of a literary friend. I have read in cars, planes, boats, and trains. I have slept with books under my pillow. I have postponed sleep in favor of completing just one more chapter. As Virginia Woolf so stunningly puts it in her work, The Common Reader, I have “shut the book to feel it better,” often lying awake just thinking about the words that have poured themselves into my mind and hardened like cement.

I would like to make an argument for why us college students, though often preoccupied and drowning in other obligations, should use that precious hour mentioned above, or even 15 minutes, to bond with a book.

I understand that not everyone self-identifies as a reader. There are some who can sit, alert and absorbed, on a couch with a book for hours until they finish their current novel. There are others who, admittedly, have never opened a book for pleasure in their lives. If you belong to the former group, I likely don’t have to present a meticulous case for why you should read for personal enjoyment. If a member of the latter, I would like to begin by displaying several commonalities that relate you to the former.

If you are reading this article on Her Campus it is likely that you are a college student. As college students, whether majoring in pure mathematics, linguistics, classical voice, or biochemical engineering, we all share a common trait: the pursuit of knowledge. Reading a book is synonymous with exploration. You begin with a starting point, an exposition, and a road of varying lengths that stretches ahead. The pages in between the front and back cover offer the unparalleled opportunity to explore, journey, and discover.

Now, the idea of exploration is enticing, and maybe the above paragraph alone has inspired you to exit from this article in search of a book. If not, I believe that that the notion of books as unwalked paths is often daunting for two dynamic reasons. Sometimes the sheer length or volume of pages is cumbersome and discouraging, while literary exploration is often misinterpreted as a characteristic whose sole ownership is under contract of the intellectual.

In tackling the first discrepancy, I would like to point out that, while seemingly obvious, the mileage of books varies greatly. The number of pages does not correlate with quality of literature.  I guarantee that if you don’t wish to haul a 500-page book around campus for a few stolen minutes of reading, there are shorter books that are equally as enriching. A personal favorite of mine is Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, a novel under 100 pages with utterly brilliant content. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is another breathtaking example of a short but memorable book in which the protagonist quite literally embarks on a journey of worldly and emotional discovery. 

Conversely, if a book is long but inviting, don’t let its thickness appear indomitable.  Regardless of size, if you love what you are reading, 800 pages will morph into 80 when your reality blurs with the reality within the book. The pace is irrelevant. If you are a slow reader, take your time and read slowly. If you voraciously blow through pages in order to conquer chapter after chapter, then, by all means, continue with your conquest. The beauty of reading for pleasure, instead of for class, is that you proceed at a self-selected speed. If you read slowly, do not feel inadequate, for in the words of Donna Tartt… 

“It is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially”

~Donna Tartt, The Secret History

I encourage you to look for that one book.

The second issue I would like to address is the established ideal of what constitutes a reader. Namely, that some personalities are inclined to books and others aren’t.  Sure, some people love to read while others find it drab or tiresome, but one does not need to be predisposed to reading in order to locate a book that will bring them joy.

Not all avid readers are English majors who pass their time reflecting on their most recent literary subject. Books don’t belong exclusively to the intellectual. I noted earlier that as college students we all share the goal of seeking out knowledge. However, it’s safe to say that we also seek out happiness and a personal reprieve from the stresses of life. Look for a book that delivers this sense of contentment, that will further your drive for knowledge, or simply pull you into a new headspace where you can pass a brief period of time in peace and relaxation. Reading is a personal endeavor, and therefore, every moment you spend with a book should be wholeheartedly geared towards increasing your level of happiness, curiosity, or wonder.

If you are new to the world of reading and are not typically inclined to travel to your nearest Barnes and Noble and cruise the aisles of countless books as a pastime, how then, do you start your selection process? Begin by thinking about your favorite TV show or movie, and gain a sense of the genre you typically gravitate to. If you prefer fantasy or science-fiction, direct yourself towards those sections of your nearest bookstore and browse through titles that catch your eye. Websites such as Goodreads are excellent for filtering through the sea of categories and the inhabitants of each genre. If you have a friend who frequently reads books, have them recommend one. The sheer number of books that populate our planet is massive and, according to Google Books, an estimated 130 million books have been published to date. Surely, there is a book in existence that you can bond with.

I would like to conclude with a final declaration: Human beings, regardless of profession, are storytellers. In fact, I am willing to bet that every one of you has, at some point in your life, recounted a memory or experience to a friend or family member. Now you have the chance to learn about other people’s stories.

I began this article with a quote from Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories. If you have never read this book, I encourage you to give it a try. It is, in fact, the perfect book to begin your literary journey, as Rushdie weaves a tale of a young boy who, in order to save his family, must save the very essence of stories themselves. Long before humans were putting words to paper, they were passing stories down orally from generation to generation. As each new millennium progresses, we reinvent these same stories to yield an entirely unique product. So when you read, you are gifted with a rare insight into the roots of humanity.

I would suggest that you do not pass up this opportunity.


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