SRU faculty and students recommend summer leisure books


Jasmine Medina reading on campus

Jasmine Medina, a Slippery Rock University senior dual biology and music major and vice president of the Bookworms Club at SRU, makes a point to carve time out of her schedule for leisure reading.

June 21, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Whether it's on a beach or in your own backyard, the "lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer" are a great time to engage in leisure reading.

For some faculty and students at Slippery Rock University, reading anything more than a class-assigned or research-related text might be difficult no matter what the calendar says. However, by recommending their favorite books to read this summer, a few SRU faculty and students offer a reminder that leisure reading is an activity that has great benefits and should not be edited out of people's schedules, regardless of the time of year.

"Leisure reading is like eating comfort food; it gives your brain a break," said Rocco Cremonese, business, user experience and outreach librarian at SRU's Bailey Library. "But it's also a great way to walk in another person's shoes. Whether you're reading nonfiction or fiction, you're getting another perspective and you start to think about viewpoints other than your own."

"(Reading for pleasure) gives you more of an open mind, it helps your vocabulary and it gets you to think creatively," said Jasmine Medina, a senior dual biology and music major from North Washington, who is vice president of the Bookworms Club at SRU. "It gives you greater access to the English language and to pop culture. A lot of books are made into movies and reading helps spark conversations with people. I'm a Harry Potter fan, so it's nice to talk to people who read that series."

However, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, fewer people are reading for pleasure. Americans averaged 23 minutes of pleasure reading per day in 2004, compared to 17 per day in 2017, including a scant 7.2 minutes for people ages 20-24, the second lowest age group among segments 15 and older. In 2004, 28% of Americans read for pleasure on a given day, with that figure dropping to 19% in 2017.

People may be quick to blame social media as the cause for the decline, but reading books has waned since the 1980s, mostly because of watching television, which is still on the rise. Americans watched an average of 166 minutes per day in 2017. A 2014 Pew Research Center Survey showed that 23% of Americans didn't read a book the previous year, up from 18% in 2011, 13% in 2001 and 8% in 1978.

"There are a number of variables and I don't think there's a definitive answer about why people are reading less for enjoyment," said Allison Peiritsch, SRU assistant professor of communication. "While social media may or may not be a factor, I personally find it very difficult to focus while reading after being on social media platforms or texting."

Although she was not reading for pleasure, Peiritsch had to read two books a week the summer she completed her doctoral degree and she noticed how spending too much time on social media affected her focus.

"I wasn't enjoying what I read; instead, I was just trying to get through the assignments," Peiritsch said. "I think about my own experience every time I see students studying with their phones next to them or pausing to answer a text while reading."

Peiritsch recommends the book, "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains" by Nicholas Carr, for students to further understand the unintended consequences of technology.

Medina said what she has noticed about SRU students' reading habits varies: she'll see students reading novels in the Quad between classes, but also hear students say they never read unless it's required for class. Medina reads about 20-30 books per year for pleasure, but she said even the 10 students who meet every other week for the Bookworms Club voted to limit their reading to one, 300-page book per month.

"(My advice is to) look for a book you think you'd be interested in and try reading for 10 minutes a day or a chapter a day and see how that works for you," Medina said. "Another good option is audiobooks."

Medina recommends a book from the young adult literature genre, "One of Us is Lying" by Karen McManus, which was a selection read by the Bookworms Club this year. Medina described it as a "'Clue: Murder Mystery' in high school that makes you think." "Just when you think you know what's happening and who did it, you get to the end and there's a big plot twist," Medina said. "(McManus) does a good job of getting you to invest in all the characters."

Keeping with the fiction genre, Timothy Oldakowski, associate professor of English, recommends "Little Fires Everywhere," a novel by Celeste Ng. "The book deals with family and friendship and difficult choices," Oldakowski said. "It also is written in multiple perspectives, something I always enjoy. The book makes one think about the choices they make and how they affect others."

Transitioning to nonfiction and the topic of self-help, Joanne Leight, professor of physical and health education, recommends "Eat, Move, Sleep" by Tom Rath. Leight said her students talk about this book often and it has become required reading in her department and should appeal to all students wanting to make good decisions automatically in three interconnected areas of well-being.

Biographies help readers understand the way people think, and what better modern thinker is there than Albert Einstein? Athula Herat, associate professor of physics, recommends "Einstein: His Life and Universe" by Walter Isaacson. "It's a beautiful book and it's for anyone who wants to get a definitive look at Einstein, his work and his life, along with the backdrop of what he had to go through having a Jewish background and coming from Nazi Germany during the time of both World Wars. Isaacson is one of the best biographers who also did an outstanding biography on Benjamin Franklin."

Memoirs also offer insight into a person's psyche. Oldakowski recommends "Educated," a memoir by Tara Westover, who was 17-years old the first time she attended traditional schooling. "It's fascinating to see her desire to learn," Oldakowski said.

Faculty from SRU's History Department are likely to recommend a few of their own titles, especially for the summer-themed topics of tourism and baseball. Aaron Cowan, associate professor of history, is the author of "A Nice Place to Visit: Tourism and Urban Revitalization in the Postwar Rustbelt," and Alan Levy, professor of history, is the author of several books, including two baseball biographies: "Joe McCarthy: Architect of the Yankee Dynasty," and "Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist."

Levy also offered a new release that he recently finished: "The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West" by David McCullough.

"It's about the growth of the Ohio state democracy in the years of the 18th and early 19th century told through the lives of the early settlers in Marietta who resisted the idea of expanding slavery into Ohio," Levy said. "That was a very important development and established the patterns of a democratic settlements among Western-living farmers. It's an important phase in American history. For history buffs, it's an important era and McCullough is a great writer."

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