the book look

If you want to pass a hard class, read. And not just your textbook.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been in class and heard something mentioned — any topic from obscure historical figures to war tactics — and thought, “Oh yeah. I’ve read about that.”

As much as you might’ve rolled your eyes every time you heard the “reading makes you smarter” rant from every adult ever, they’re actually right. Just maybe not in the way that you’d expect.

Reading puts things in a different context, whether it be social hierarchies, corsets or chickens. Yeah, I read a lot of books.

Minor details that you casually skimmed over in a novel three years ago are almost guaranteed to be mentioned by a teacher at some point: a character’s passing mention of a recently elected president, the name of an artist or a fact that you forgot about until someone brought it up.

Somehow, this minor detail will crop up in a lecture and you’ll already be ahead of half your class, which has no clue what the teacher is talking about.

One of the best things, though, is that novels don’t have to be historical to be relevant. There’s an uncountable amount of new fiction being published each year. Each book is full of the same stuff, stories made from fact into fiction, and full of the same details that connect to real life.

Even if you hate history, there are still novels that relate to the topic you’re interested in. Like science and want to work for NASA? Try “Hidden Figures.”

Want to learn about pointillism, chaos theory and a little bit about star mythology? “Parallel.” Are you really into music but can’t see how classic compositions turned into classic rock? “Revolution.”

As a student, I hear students say they don't read their textbooks because they're boring — or at least, there's the overwhelming perception that they're boring. They're static, they usually don’t have much of a cohesive plot and there are definitely no werewolves or swoon-worthy love interests.

Books, on the other hand, have a long history of entertaining people. Books offer the same facts — at least, the well-written ones — and can simultaneously hold your interest with the aforementioned werewolf or swoon-worthy love interest. Books offer a wealth of knowledge, but with the addition of a perspective, which history is all about.

With books, you get facts through someone’s perspective. You can learn about labor strikes through the eyes of dock workers, while also seeing why their managers hated it. Books can help you see that every conflict has two sides, and each side thinks its stance is right. Textbooks give you an overview of history, but of their narratives are missing and their information is read mostly to pass a test.

If more educators were willing to assign novels and give less textbook readings, I think students would be able to connect with the material, rather than “forgetting to read it” until the night before a test. Sure, some people still won't want to read it. But the reading will be much more fun and less grueling to study for all the parties involved.

Recently, in one of my classes, we were required to read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” When it came time to discuss the books, the students were actively participating, which doesn’t happen when discussing a textbook.

They were cringing over Sinclair’s vivid descriptions and, when they weren't gagging, they were connecting the real life problems described with fictional characters better than I've ever seen anyone do with a textbook. Our copy of “The Jungle” also cost way less than any textbook I’ve ever bought, too, and, unfortunately, passages of “The Jungle” are similarly seared into my brain.

Books are a web of facts waiting for you to connect them, many times in ways you’d never expect. They feature a thousand small references that will prepare you in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

Books entertain you while they teach you, so it doesn’t actually feel like you’re learning. Reading is knowledge, but subtle knowledge that's an added bonus to the story you're already enjoying.

And who doesn't need more of that?

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