Reading for pleasure, a productive pastime

Reading strengthens different areas in life

Students at Palo Alto High School are undeniably obsessed with Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.  People put in countless hours to improve their scores — some even begin studying as soon as eighth grade!  In a community so focused on this test, why do most students waste their time playing video games, browsing social media and watching Netflix, rather than reading?

Reading has numerous benefits. First, It greatly improves vocabulary and writing skills.  It helps people focus their attention, improve their analytical skills, enhance their memory and reduce stress.  Reading is a great way to stimulate the mind, which helps prevent dementia, as the mental effort from reading counteracts the typical mental deterioration in the elderly.

Most of all, though, reading is fun.  There are few tasks more enjoyable and rewarding than reading a gripping book for an hour or two on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Strangely, despite the benefits of reading, even though there is an entire section on the SAT dedicated to it, most students prefer means of entertainment other than reading.  Many find it more relaxing just to give their mind a rest and bury themselves in television or social media.

“I only read ESPN and The Wall Street Journal articles outside of school,” senior Charlie Oliveira said. “I prefer going on social media, because it’s easier.”

Some students simply do not have time to enjoy a good book.  Sophomore Ciara Bleahen said that she has too much going on in her life to spend much time reading.

“It usually takes me a while to finish a book since I don’t have much free time,” Bleahen said. “I sometimes use social media rather than reading because it is playing such a big role in society now. If I don’t check social media at least once a day I feel like I am missing out on something, so the reading comes second. I like seeing what my friends are doing, how my family in Ireland is and what is going on in the world.”

According to librarian Sima Thomas, a relatively small percentage of the student body seems to read for pleasure.

“I see a lot of students checking out books and a lot of books get checked out, but often by the same students,” Thomas said. “We’re always trying to increase the number of students visiting the library and checking out books, but I’m sure we don’t get fifty percent of the student body checking books out. There have been studies that prove that reading for pleasure throughout your life makes you a happier, kinder person, so it would be great to see more books getting checked out. It will be my hope to increase reading at Paly over the next few years.”

Senior Theodore Zaharias is part of the minority that does spend a lot of time reading for pleasure, and he appreciates the benefits he receives from the activity.

“I mainly read non-fiction, so I get a lot of knowledge of whatever topic the book is about,” Zaharias said.

Zaharias would much rather spend his time reading than watching television or checking in on his Facebook friends.

“Books are much better than TV or social media because they require effortful processing in order to understand,” Zaharias said. “Additionally, there are literally millions of books compared to maybe 1000 TV channels and two to three gaming systems.  If I could tell all the non readers out there something, I would tell them to try something new because there’s a book out there for everyone.