Doing it by the Books: Required Reading

Jack Thistlewood, Writer

I’m sure that most people like to read, at least to some extent. Getting cozy with a good space opera or magical world is always a delightful experience, after all. However, comfort reading like that isn’t what society tends to require. Instead, society likes to put upon us the horrible, despicable thing that is known as required reading.

Required reading, especially in places of education, is used for rigorous study. Like Pavlov’s dogs associated bells with food, students have associated reading with studying. This connection forces a student – any student – to fear required reading. Unlike comfort reading, where a person can relish the moment, required reading forces people to feel like they’re taking notes for a test concerning the color of a passerby’s tie. While this type of reading is necessary for the development of critical thinking, especially when it comes to under-the-surface context, it also creates something of a wall that blocks the concept of a reader’s personal involvement in a given text.

I don’t think that I have to tell anybody that immersion is one of many important factors when it comes to reading or any other form of entertainment. What I do have to explain is that the aforementioned wall that arises from required reading dampens the effects of immersion – the ability to connect with the text in a fashion that’s personally meaningful. Without that factor of immersion, a reader is no longer within the confines of the world they’re reading of. That world becomes a foreign land that resembles an equation more than it does a fully-realized reality unto itself. While an equation may be great for theorizing, it does not bode well for a reader’s connection to what they’re trying to experience. It is much more difficult to relate to the boiled-down elements of archetypes and equations than it is to relate to characters with their own lives and experiences. The ultimate result of the disconnection between reader and reading is a failure to personalize the book’s contents to themselves.

Overall, the issue of required reading comes down to the separation between reader and text. Without the factors of relatability and immersion, it becomes more difficult for a reader to enjoy the text. Instead of being something that can be experienced and loved, required reading becomes a foreign beast of hidden meanings and frightening, unrelatable interpretations. 

Isn’t it funny? In trying to get the universal messages pertaining to life from so many texts, required reading makes it practically impossible to apply those very messages to a reader’s own life.