Friday, March 13, 2009

College Kids, Reading and Activism

Sunday's Washington Post featured an article by Ron Charles about the reading interests (or lack there of) of college students. The author is troubled that the reading selections of today's college students aren't the revolutionary, politically charged, introspective reads of yesteryear. Instead, Charles laments, "Here we have a generation of young adults away from home for the first time, free to enjoy the most experimental period of their lives, yet they're choosing books like 13-year-old girls -- or their parents." Chief on a current college student's reading list: Twilight.

Yes, it's true, college students are reading Twilight. So are middle schoolers, high schoolers, young professionals, stay-at-home-moms, businessmen and grandparents. Everyone is reading Twilight. It's a phenomenon like Harry Potter where readership is not defined by a certain demographic. And it's one book for Pete's sake! (Okay, okay, it's four books - but it's not as though identifying as a person who has read Twilight means something other than that you are alive in the year 2009). Let's not make it out to be more than it is.

So yeah, college students are reading Twilight, and I guess it's the end of the world because this is evidently an indication that instead of a desire to change the world, it means they want to revert to the safety of childhood. I don't think anyone is going to argue that college students aren't as mature and independent as they once were. Extended adolescence - adultescence, if you will - is a fact of our twenty-first century that is plainly evident in the over-involvement of parents in their adult children's lives*, the "boomerang" generation, and the ever-increasing age at which young people are marrying and having children. To say that today's twenty-somethings aren't growing up and moving on to full-fledged adulthood as fast as they used to isn't a shock. But to demean their activism and engagement in critical thought just because they aren't reading Barthelme (who, by the way, I had too look up!), is foolish.

These same students are the motivated young people who propelled our nation to elect its first African-American president just a few short months ago. These same students are applying in droves (over 25,000 applications this year alone) to teach for two years in low-income communities through Teach For America. Yes, they drink a lot and aside from Twilight the other book that most have probably read is Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell - a book so repugnant that I can't understand how a movie version got an R rating instead of NC-17 or worse (if there even is worse). But they read a lot of textbooks and classics in all of their college coursework, and college is only getting more and more academically rigorous and it's more important than ever to be a well-rounded student who achieves inside and outside the classroom.

Give the kids a break. As noted in a previous post, it's not like publishers, booksellers or libraries are making any effort to appeal to the college set. So leave them be. At least they're reading during their minimal free time. They have a lifetime to read.

* Last summer I worked with college students and the day before they arrived a mother called concerned that the special sheets and comforter she had shipped for her son had not yet arrived in the mail. I assured her that he could go to Target and buy another set if it didn't arrive in time. She drove 7 hours the next day with a second set of bedding, made her son's bed and left. True story.

1 comment:

  1. Stories like that one are disturbing! But on another hand, I wonder if the traditional indicators of adulthood are changing, too. I originally learned these at some point as: having a full-time job with benefits, being finished with school, owning a house, being married, and having children. But I know a lot of people who consider themselves adults who have none of these. Changing cultural and economic factors might mean that we need to redefine what we mean by adulthood in the first place.

    (oh, and no Zane on your list? surely college students are reading Zane. :))