Literacy Week: “Reading gives us armchair access to the world”


Dr. Stephynie Perkins, Associate Professor, University of North Florida

I cannot imagine a day without reading. Without the written word, I would not have the language to startle my students, explore new ideas or change my mind.

As a college instructor at the University of North Florida, I read constantly: Facebook posts, billboards, magazine articles, food labels.  Neither the length nor the format of the writing matter.  It’s as important to read newspapers as it is to read Tweets.  When we use knowledge all of these sources, we develop a complete perspective of other people, daily events and ourselves.

Reading gives us armchair access to the world, and the topics can cover a universe of ideas. For example, many of my students are focused on fashion.  I encourage them to follow their favorite bloggers so they’ll be able to style a trend-setting “outfit of the day.”   If a student loves sports, I tell her to follow Stephen A. Smith’s Twitter feed to determine if the Los Angeles Rams have any chance of defeating the New England Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl.

Reading makes us think. When we look at the text, we’re doing more than gazing at letters on a page. Reading gives us a chance to consider information, decide what it means and use it to improve our lives.  Daily reading builds mental muscle. It gives us facts to keep our conversation interesting. Reading helps us to make up our own minds.

If you’re not a reader, try this: Find one author whose style you like.  If, for example, you like social commentary, try someone like James Baldwin. His 1974 novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” remains contemporary, and it has captured a lot of Oscar buzz this year.  Perhaps, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, you’ll be inspired by non-fiction.  New awards were created to honor his work “Hamilton.”  The musical’s inventive use of language brought new interest in the life of one of America’s founding fathers.  These are only two in a galaxy of examples of how the written word has captivated, illuminated and entertained.

My own love of books took root when I was 4. My dad forced me to read with the promise of being able to play later. After I finished “See Spot Run,” I found that I wanted more. Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” nurtured my enduring love of science fiction. When I was a newspaper reporter, I dissected stories about weird, true crime, like those in Edna Buchannan’s “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face.” Coupled with fictional works like Patricia Cornwell’s “Postmortem,” I gleaned new ideas about how to write stories for my newspaper. Today, I’m rediscovering fiction and fantasy in the Harry Potter series and Madeline Miller’s “Circe,” which tells the story of Odysseus from the villain’s perspective.

I’m always surprised by how many references from my reading pop us as I lecture or when I talk to my daughter about world events. Reading, I’ve found, keeps me connected and gives me new ideas to explore with the people who are closest to me.