Nothing like a Good Book to Restore Reading-for-Fun as an Essential Part of Campus Life, a Group of Colleges Is Promoting Lists of Important, Enjoyable Books

Article excerpt

COLLEGE students lead notoriously busy lives.

Only students who successfully budget their time between class work, extracurricular activities, and their social lives survive the rigors of the nation's top academic institutions. And even these masters of time management often neglect basic necessities like eating and sleeping.

In recent years, deans and professors have observed, with no small alarm, the decline of one of the most important aspects of student life, reading for pleasure. Unfortunately, with increasing demands on student time, recreational reading seems to be more a luxury than an integral part of the college experience.

Addressing this concern, a group of educators, booksellers, and publishers have created a program to resurrect recreational reading on college campuses. The program, called Think-Read, began as a publicity campaign aimed at students seeking enjoyable books to supplement their textbook readings.

Organizers have recently begun to expand Think-Read into a national program celebrating the important relationship between pleasure reading and academic life.

This month, Brown University introduced its Think-Read project to the Providence, R.I. community. (See reading list.) The Auraria Book Center in Denver is currently putting the finishing touches on its own program. Both are test projects for the National Association of College Stores (NACS), which hopes to promote Think-Read at a national level.

Think-Read was created in 1993 by Peter Gold, assistant dean of the undergraduate college at SUNY Buffalo, in response to some disheartening observations about student reading habits.

"For several years as a faculty member here, I had been continually concerned with how little students were reading," Mr. Gold says. "They often had no sense of reading except as a chore."

After several failed attempts to encourage extracurricular reading on campus, Mr. Gold issued an informal survey to professors, librarians, advisors, and administrators asking the questions, "What have you enjoyed reading? What books have been important to you, as a scholar and a person?"

The result of the survey is "The Undergraduate College List of Unrequired Reading... a September Welcome Gift to New and Returning Undergraduates." There are 48 titles on the list, one book a month for a four-year undergraduate career.

This original Think-Read list includes books as diverse as Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Charles Darwin's "Voyage of the Beagle," and Rombauer and Becker's, "The Joy of Cooking."

The list was advertised on posters, bookmarks, and pamphlets distributed throughout the campus. "We wanted to surround students with the list," Gold says.

"Bookstores around here stocked the books," he adds. "We are told that the program was successful enough that some stores are still showing the posters."

The program was also successful enough to attract the attention of the NACS large-store group, another organization concerned with the role of the general book in students' lives.

Two members of that group, Gretchen Minney, director of Auraria Book Center, serving three institutions of higher learning in the Denver area, and Larry Carr, director of The Brown Bookstore in Providence, volunteered their businesses for the national program's first run. …