Yesterday, I finished reading Barbarians at the Gate, a tome containing over 500 pages of riveting prose, chronicling the (at the time) largest corporate takeover in history. What I'm somewhat amazed about, is the fact that I managed to read over 400 pages over Saturday and Sunday; it may very well be the first time in my life that I have been able to consume so many pages over such a brief time frame.
In my academic years, I remember consistently struggling with the reading assignments. I definitely didn't finish Ferinheight 451 or To Kill a Mockingbird during the years of mandatory education, and did close to the minimum reading possible to churn out assignments during college. Given such a shameful history of reading literary or academic material, why the sudden change now?
One theory is that I have been reading so much more in recent years, both online and offline, that reading is no longer a high friction event for me. Reading is no longer a chore or a hassle, but a natural option for me to pass the time or absorb some new information.
Is it people who have a natural propensity and attraction for reading the ones who read voraciously? Or is it people who are given some extrinsic reason to read voraciously the ones who develop a natural and innate love of doing so? I myself seem to be an embodiment of the latter, but I'd venture to guess that there are plenty of others who feel that they fall into the former category.
A second theory for my newfound habit of page-flipping, is that the subjects of my reading are now derived from my interests. Looking back to my academic years, my perceived passion directed towards the sciences, while the humanities were more of an afterthought. As such, I certainly didn't want to devote the time and mindshare to subjects such as religion, literature, or philosophy. Even if there were things that I found fascinating about these courses, I chose to suppress the desire to devote more time to them; after all, most students of the engineering and scientific disciplines are rather pressed for time in those years.
I have been outside the academic environment for about four years now. During this time, my reading and studies have been driven not by the requirements set forth by my degree, but by my own personal and selfish interests. At times this has been aligned with my profession, but more often than not, the activities have been driven primarily by my personal interest in the subject, with perhaps a slight tertiary overlap with my current or future professional discipline. This alignment with my intrinsic interests could possibly be the catalyst behind my now rather respectable appetite for reading. Until now, I quite literally never read anything outside of my coursework, possibly because I had very little time, possibly because I had different priorities then.
If the ability and desire to read is something that can be cultivated, then I must ask one question.
"How much of an advantage do such students have over those that do not, when entering an undergraduate or graduate program that is centered around reading?"
Won't some students have a massive advantage over others, much like how students who have taken calculus-based physics courses in high school will have a massive advantage over those that have not? In a skill as seemingly basic and universal (at least in college) as reading, there seems to be a great disparity in the amount of preparation a student has upon entering his academic program. Much attention has been given to preparing the student in the quantitative disciplines; could a similar need be hidden away from us with respect to reading?
I certainly wish that I had somehow developed the willingness to read that I now possess, before the most crucial years of my formal studies; my abilities in this area were painfully underdeveloped compared to those of my peers. Something seems amiss. Education reformers and practitioners are always trying to instill enjoyment and proactivity in the math and sciences; but could they be overlooking an equally problematic lack of love and desire for reading in the other half of the student population?
Having transformed my own reading habits, I am deeply suspicious of our current education system's ability to cultivate the ability to read in its students.
 I've read my fair share of books featuring business stories, but I was blown away at the quality of writing (so far only matched by Roger Lowenstein) and the research that went into recreating such a complex interplay of personalities.
 I believe that the sheer amount of coursework required from the engineering and science majors is a truly tragic situation that should honestly be rectified.
Crossposted from my main blog