Director's Note: Bella Phillips is a sophomore at the University of Iowa who has been working at the Iowa Reading Research Center this year. She hails from Council Bluffs where her mother is a science teacher at Lewis Central High School. Bella is in a pre-med program, so working in our center is a different sort of experience for her. The idea for Bella’s blog post came from a recent experience I had. I was asked to visit a class of high school seniors who had expressed an interest in becoming teachers. The students spent a great deal of time impressing upon me how reading was irrelevant to them and how they were able to work around completing any reading assignments in their courses. Given that these were students who intended to enter the field of education, I was dismayed by their bravado about circumventing all opportunities to interact with texts and taking shortcuts with their assignments. Therefore, I asked Bella if she would be willing to explain what reading has meant to her. Because Bella is close in age to the students I visited, I thought her perspective might be insightful. I hope you will appreciate her words as much I do.
Deborah K. Reed, Ph.D.
Director, Iowa Reading Research Center
The world of literature offers a vast range of topics and stories to explore. Because of this diversity, reading can be a very personal and unique experience for anyone who chooses to make it a lifelong journey. For me, reading has taken on different forms: from a burden or task to a source of relaxation and enjoyment. As a college student, these forms continue to fight with one another, but reading is something I will always see the good in.
Growing up, reading was constantly integrated in my life by my parents. Often my siblings and I were rewarded by a trip to the bookstore to pick out a new novel to read. This reshaped our desire for toys into our desire for books, and I believe this to be the foundation of my relationship with literature.
Through time, my pleasure for reading when I was a child became overshadowed by my predisposition to think in a manner quite opposite from someone with a natural literary mind. Much like my mother, my mind is built for the sciences, which makes it difficult for me to analyze certain literary works. Around middle school this is something I struggled with so much that it placed a dark cloud over the whole subject of reading: It was something I did not get and, frankly, did not care to. Throughout high school I improved my ability to analyze text and derive the author’s meanings in a novel, and soon I began to enjoy doing it. This was not because of my desire to become better, but the overwhelming influence my extraordinary literature teachers had on me. They forced me to see a world and perspective never introduced to me before, and this was something that struck me with such influence and wonder. I wanted so badly to see what they saw in literature.
It has been proven that reading allows one’s brain to develop in ways it could not otherwise; thus the reason for so many parents to push their children to read while they are growing up. More than just making you smarter (which it would be easy to argue that reading does), I believe it causes you to use different parts of your brain, stimulating further development and creating a way of using perspectives that can only be reached through the act of reading. I view it as cultivating a way of thinking that I already have. I marveled at this discovery about my development resulting from reading. I really could not believe that another perspective–one that allows for a deeper understanding and appreciation for another’s words–was available for my own use, and it was just something I had to develop. It took me a long time to understand, but once I did, the power and benefits of reading were nearly impossible to ignore.
Reading offers something that not much else in life can offer. For me, to truly enjoy reading means to immerse yourself in a world that is not your own. It allows your imagination to expand into something more spectacular than it was before, and it allows your brain to take a break from reality while training it to become incredible. You can escape into a fantasy that can make you feel any emotion possible. To have something like reading—something that will always be there as a source of comfort and distraction from the real world—and not utilize it would be a shame.
The world of literature is extraordinary and, sadly, not enough people choose to uncover the wonders it offers. You can read about more experiences than you could have in a lifetime. Perhaps this is another reason to begin your journey with reading early: to see and experience so many other ideas and stories while you are still creating your own.