Students looking to dive into a new book have an opportunity to read a book with the entire school.
According to a study done by the National Endowment for the Arts, less than half of all American adults read a piece of literature each year. The study defines literature as any poetry, novel, short story or play.
“Reading interests and reading skills in the United States have been steadily declining for over 20 years,” said Dan Pearce, the associate dean of curriculum for the College of Language and Letters.
Back in 2016, Pearce and other faculty organized a campus-wide event to fight against this statistic. The event is called “The Big Read.” It was designed to encourage BYU-I students to read a specific piece of literature over the course of a semester.
For the winter and spring semesters, students have been prompted to read All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The story follows a German soldier through the rigors of World War I.
“Part of the reason for choosing All Quiet on the Western Front, for this year, is that it marks the 100th anniversary since World War I,” Pearce said. “That war still impacts us today, and for our students, the thing that really surprised me was how they identified with the soldiers in the book.”
Charlee Anderson, a senior studying public health, is one of those students. Anderson said she took a hiatus from reading after she graduated high school. When Pearce first introduced Anderson to All Quiet on the Western Front, she was skeptical. After reading the text, she found herself relating to the book.
All Quiet on the Western Front deals heavily with issues regarding post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that Anderson herself deals with.
“The book describes exactly how it feels to have PTSD,” Anderson said. “That ended up being more healing than it was destructive to me. Instead of unravelling me, it felt more like it was putting me back together.”
Anderson mentioned a quote by author David Foster Wallace, “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
This has been one of the aims of the Big Read: to help demonstrate to students that literary works can influence readers on a personal level.
“Really great works of literature can change you, can transform you, make you a wiser and a more sympathetic person,” Pearce said. “Almost every measure of the quality of life is increased by reading, especially when reading high-quality literature.”
The Big Read has seen increased numbers in attendance and participation since its initiation two years ago. Pearce hopes to see this increase even further.
“I feel on very safe ground asserting that reading will make you a wiser person and give you a richer life,” Pearce said. “If that’s something you want in your life, then this (Big Read) is a great opportunity to share experiences with like-minded students.”
The Big Read will take place throughout the entirety of this semester, and students interested in participating can pick up their own copy of All Quiet on the Western Front from the BYU-I University Store.