By Angela Hwang, Jacob Jasper, Meria Rothrock and Nadia Tatishcheva
“I really didn’t start liking reading until I was in tenth grade. We had programs in middle school […] that after you read a book you had to take a quiz and then you have to earn so many points, and it just took all of the love of reading out completely of my life.”
Denali English teacher Sara Ragey went on to explain that her reading experience got even worse in high school: “I could never find books that I enjoyed reading, and then any books that were assigned in class I didn’t want to read, and, in high school, it was challenging because I didn’t like reading up until that point and so my reading skills weren’t very good and so books that I had to read in high school were more challenging and because I didn’t understand them … it made me want to read less, so it was like this constant negative cycle of my relationship with reading.”
Ms. Ragey’s story is common to many people. Reading, an essential life skill, has therapeutic and social uses in addition to recreational and enrichment uses.
Stress relief or control is a (potential) therapeutic use for books. According to Yuki Ascue, a child therapist at the Sunnyvale Mental Health Clinic, “At least 60 percent of people turn to books to calm down.” Ms. Ascue explained that a study from the University of Minnesota backs up this claim.
Ms. Ascue explained, “Breathing calms the nervous system [so] if you like reading, it probably calms your nerves and helps with stress management [because] when your mind calms down, you’re activating a different nervous system.”
Esther Min, a Denali freshman agreed, saying: “[Reading] is like an escape, and the characters are making me happy.” Min went on to talk about how reading has increased her social awareness. “Every book has a moral lesson, and, every time I read, I learn more and live in the shoes of the character and try to feel what they are feeling which makes me more empathetic and increases my knowledge of society.”
Sarah Rivas, a history teacher at Summit Denali, shared her thoughts on how reading has affected her: “I think it’s exposed me to a lot of different viewpoints and ideas.” She went on to add that reading is a big part of her family: “When we read together, we all talk about the books we’ve read, share those stories.”
Mira Geffner, a librarian at the Sunnyvale Public Library, added, “I think it can give us a window into other cultures and individuals whose life experiences we may not be able to understand. […] And I think as a community it can help us understand one another better.”
Ms. Rivas then stated that “there’s [a] cultural awareness [aspect as well]. People, even now or when you get older, are going to make references to these books, and if you don’t know what Big Brother is talking about, you’re going to come off as ignorant and you’re not. I don’t want that to hold [students] back in life.”
Leigh Odum, the owner of Leigh’s Favorite Books said, “I think there’s a book culture here in Sunnyvale, and I think that it’s one more way for people to connect, people that may not meet otherwise. I think one thing I’ve really noticed about Sunnyvale is Sunnyvale really feels like a small town, so even though it actually has a pretty big population.”
But, of course, reading also allows students to grow and shine. Cleo Chen, a Denali freshmen stated, “Reading inspired me to start writing because I was like, I want to do this too!” and Min said, “I feel like my English level has improved because of the new vocabulary in books.”
However, many people (teachers included), agree that forcing students to read takes away the love of reading. “In elementary school, I didn’t like reading because my mom made me read these really complicated classics, so I never really found out what books are like,” said an anonymous freshman.
Ms. Ragey confirms that reading is more enjoyable when one is reading something one enjoys: “Then [in 10th grade] I finally found a book that I enjoyed, and I felt like I was reading quickly and understanding and enjoying, and then after that, I was more open to reading.”
She also stated that, in her experience, students who enjoy reading also enjoy school more than students who do not enjoy reading. Her observations are backed up by the Waterford Institute.
Ms. Rivas said, “I think [reading] is a habit that we need to build. Reading is about, for some people, you need to build some stamina and that’s the only way you practice is by like reading in school for some people at home reading’s not emphasized, school’s the only time someone’s going to tell them to read, but then it’s also you’ve seen in all of your classes, reading is in every subject, and so it’s really important that you can read easily and quickly, and it’s also less stressful for you.”
For those that cannot get to the library, do not like carrying around large, bulky books, or have vision troubles, many libraries and bookstores offer ebooks. Ms. Odum said, “[Ebooks have] given customers more options. I think we had a number of customers that had problems with their vision, and so ebooks have given people that had trouble reading a chance to read.” Additionally, Ms. Geffner, the Sunnyvale librarian, said, “We [the library] also provide materials to a limited number of homebound Sunnyvale residents by making personalized deliveries every single month, to between 70 and 80 residents in the city who are not able to get to the library on their own.”
But what impact do ebooks have on the bookstores? Ryan Higgins, the owner of Comics Conspiracy said, ““It’s hard to tell. […] Things like Amazon, I find, doesn’t really affect us too much because a lot of people like to come in, you know, they’re more collectors than just trying to buy cheap stuff online. Clearly some books that are much cheaper on Amazon, I mean sometimes it’s hard to pass up those deals, but, for a lot of people, you know, they’re coming in for the experience of shopping in the store.”
But, for a regular bookstore, business can be harder to attain. “We have to be competitive in terms of pricing, or in terms of services that we offer, there has to be an advantage to buying a full price book or a book that’s discounted less than it is online,” Ms. Odum said, adding: “For us, I haven’t seen a downturn in sales and, again, ebooks existed when we opened our store, so I think it’s just given people more options.” This is in sharp contrast with what Forbes.com reported last year.
Ms. Odum continued, “I think it’s really important to just remember that there’s a new generation with completely different experiences and it’s important to adapt, but I always think it’s important [to encourage young people to read].”
Ms. Rivas expressed a similar wish for students: “I would like to see you all reading more, I think, not just documents but novels, longer texts that you need to engage with.”
Reading has come a long way since the Dark Ages when books were a rarity and only the wealthiest of people could read. Today we have the privilege of being able to read just about anywhere in a variety of ways from ebooks to bookstores and libraries to online pdfs and free reading websites. As Charles W. Eliot states, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”