Surprise! Students aren’t reading Kafka in their free time. The Chronicle of Higher Education has run surveys of college bookstores for the past 40 years to determine what college students are reading. As of late, most of the results of these surveys indicate that that students are reading books geared towards adolescents such as Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games.
That’s not to say students aren’t reading more enlightening material when the time is right. The Chronicle reports that in 2006 when the Dalai Lama was going to visit the University at Buffalo most of the books that were being sold at the campus book store were Buddhism-related. In 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s top sellers were Mountains Beyond Mountains, Creating a World Without Poverty, and, Three Cups of Tea.
Is it all that surprising that aside from guest appearances and national disasters that students would turn to fantasy fiction in their free time? There are plenty of highbrow required reading books that students have to read and write about in their English Composition classes. Aside from that, the college atmosphere is often one of philosophical and political debate.
All those things can take a toll out on students. The way they handle the stress that comes from being in such an intense atmosphere can vary. Some play Xbox, others play sports. Some go to movies, and some choose to read. But if they are choosing to read, isn’t it completely understandable why they’d like to give their mind a break and instead of reading about Derrida on their free time they choose Harry Potter? All the merits of Harry Potter aside, when you spend most of your time cramming complex concepts into your mind the last thing you want to do when you’re trying to relax is cram some more.
Does reading pubescent-targeted books mean that college students across the country are less intellectual than they once were? I’m sure some would say yes. Others, however, would probably tell them to shove their Voltaire where the sun don’t shine as they enjoy summer break by relaxing on a hammock with a glass of ice tea and a Sookie Stackhouse book to help them detox from their final exams.