What Stanford’s reading

Feb. 24, 2017, 4:16 a.m.

We always have mountains of assigned reading, whether for a literature class with fifteen required books or a chem class with a thousand-page textbook. And while those readings can be occasionally enjoyable, reading a book because it’s assigned for homework isn’t nearly the same experience as reading a book for the pure pleasure of falling into a story.  

All of us were admitted to Stanford, at least partially, because of our intellectual curiosity (there’s even a question on the application about it), and so it’s fair to assume that most of us love learning.  And there are few better ways to learn than by reading. But do students prioritize it?

To find out, I surveyed 36 freshmen about their reading habits. 25 percent responded that they read all the time, 17 percent responded that they rarely ever read, and 57 percent responded that they occasionally read.

“I WISH I HAD MORE TIME!” one student wrote in the survey.  Students were too tired, they explained. “I just watch videos instead of read because it takes less effort,” wrote one freshman, noting that videos might only be twenty or forty minutes, while reading a book can take several hours. In some cases, it seemed that students did have some additional time, but the fatigue that accompanies so much assigned reading meant that they had little desire to read any more, whether or not for fun.

Students who did read claimed that it was “a reward for doing work” or a “guilty habit” and an “important hobby.” They stressed that it helped them learn new ideas, exercise their imaginations, and write better. Plus, as a few students wryly mentioned, reading is inherently fun.

When asked the last book they read for fun, students reported a wide range of books, from deep classics like “Moby Dick and “Madame Bovary to biographies like “The Boys in the Boat and political commentaries like “Listen, Liberal.”

But Stanford students don’t only read super smart books; some of their “guilty” pleasure reads include teen romances or young adult novels like Sarah Dessen’s “Lock and Key.” The respondent remarked that such a classic teen book might be looked down on, but having read that book myself, I have to say it’s one of Dessen’s best. As a serious young adult fiction addict (the sappy romantic plots are really comforting when I’m sad, ok?!), it’s nice to see I’m not the only one! My favorite books might be “East of Eden and “Crime and Punishment,” but that doesn’t mean that I’m not totally obsessed with books like “My Life Next Door and “City of Bones too.

“Teen romance is definitely a guilty pleasure. I know it’s gooey and unrealistic and gross, but hey — it makes me smile and that’s all that matters,” wrote one respondent. There’s something infinitely appealing about reading young adult fiction, maybe because the plot is so relatable. You can almost imagine that it’s your own life, even while knowing that the entire premise is improbable.   

Finally, I wanted to know what the best places to read on campus are. Most students agreed it was their rooms — “with a nice glass of wine,” added one student. The Bender Room in Green, outside by Lake Lag, coffee shops like CoHo or Coupa and the Law Terrace all seem to be popular locales as well.

However, Stanford is a diverse school, so it’s unsurprising that people’s reading habits hugely differ as well. There are the students who don’t prioritize reading, sometimes not even in their classes — “we don’t even read the required class readings!” one student wrote. Ironically, other students commented that they worried they were wasting their time when they read for fun, instead of channeling their energy into something “more productive.”

One student wished “most people read and gave book recommendations … without the pressure of literature or analysis like you would find in a classroom.” There are multiple Stanford book clubs floating around campus, including one hosted by the English Department,  so if you’re interested in some non-classroom reading, you should check them out.

People like to label Stanford as a STEM school, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of humanities lovers too. Even STEM majors love to read! At least half the people in my English class are STEM majors, which I suppose you might take as a testament of the prevalence of the sciences at Stanford, but also could be attributed to a deep interest in the humanities even among more science-minded people.

After all, those bookshelves were placed in our dorms for a reason!


Contact Caroline Dunn with your favorite book suggestions at cwdunn98 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Login or create an account