The John C. Hodges Library houses 3 million books.
From academic volumes to periodicals to computer resources, the 6-level library is home to stacks on stacks of texts. However, much of it can be intimidating, notes science librarian Teresa Underwood Berry.
This is why in 2006 she introduced the concept of a leisure reading section for UT's main library, after receiving specific requests for certain popular novels and series some eight years ago.
The objective of the leisure reading section, Berry explained, is to provide students and faculty with a separate section of books that offered a selection of fiction, science fiction, mystery/spy and more; essentially, a selection of books that are convenient for library visitors looking for something lighter to read.
"I don't care what you read, it could be trashy or low-level or what have you, as long as you read, I think it just makes you a better student," Berry said. "Reading can be fun, and not everything is like those required readings you have to do."
Although she does not get specific requests often, Berry said she encourages students to speak up if certain books they are looking for are not available in the leisure reading section. Otherwise, she chooses books and series based on best-seller lists, reviews and what's current in popular culture, spending around $6,000 a year from money donated to Hodges Library.
Shelby Rae Stringfield, junior in English with a concentration in creative writing and Editor-in-Chief of The Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine and frequenter of Hodges' leisure reading section, said she likes to unwind with leisure reading before she goes to bed. Stringfield said she does a lot of reading for class, "some of it enjoyable and some of it rather difficult."
"Though I appreciate all of the material I'm assigned in my classes," Stringfield said. "It's nice to take a break from the analytic approach and just get lost briefly in the world of a novel or short story."
Stringfield added that many of the authors she is introduced to in class are often the names she reaches for in her leisure reading, noting a short story she read by Jeffrey Eugenides in class and how it lead her to the author's novel, "Middlesex."
Students circulate a third of the leisure reading books, Berry said, while UT faculty and staff circulate another third, not including the leisure reading section at the Pendergrass Agriculture and Veterinarian Medicine Library.
The currently popular series "Divergent" and the well-known "Harry Potter" series are located not in the leisure reading section, but in the young adult and children's section on the third floor of Hodges. These books see heavy circulation, which Berry said she thinks is due to their popularity in the film industry.
In Stringfield's opinion, leisure reading is specifically important to college students because of the nature of culture consumption in today's day and age. As Stringfield noted, much of popular culture stems from literature.
"College students are consumers of everything, especially popular culture through television, movies, music, etc.," she said. "For example, the film 'Brokeback Mountain' (which won an Academy Award for Best Director — Ang Lee) immediately draws an image of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in cowboy hats. Not everyone is aware that the film was based on an incredible short story, of the same title, by Annie Proulx.
"Though both the film and the short story hold their own as great pieces, the experience of the story is so much better when explored from the origin — there's a lot more to appreciate when viewing them together and in light of one another."
Currently reading J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," Katherine Christian, sophomore in English with a creative writing concentration, said students should opt for leisure reading as a way to lower stress levels.
"I read to just take a break and take a breather and not have to think about all the other stuff that I'm doing," Christian said. "Just get lost in a book."
Relaxation goes hand in hand with leisure reading for Stringfield, but she said she can understand how it might not for other students.
"Everyone has their own way to relax — I definitely don't criticize the ways in which other people choose to spend their free time," she said. "I feel like some people don't leisure read because it seems like a lot to take on — you start reading a novel, but then you have a test, then it's finally the weekend and you could read, but you really just want to take a nap — I totally understand that."
In addition to a method of relaxation, Christian said she believes leisure reading is a key way to improve writing, something not all students may be cultivating in class.
When comparing English majors to science majors, Christian said, English majors are more inclined to be better writers because of the amount of reading they're required to do.
For students who feel like there's no time to leisure read, Stringfield recommends picking up short story collections like those from Junot Diaz or Flannery O'Connor, a few of her favorites. Or, of course, The Phoenix.
"The special thing about the stories we publish is that they consistently represent the current student body at UT," Stringfield said. "It's fulfilling to read through an entire story, start to finish, in just one sitting."
Berry, who notes the "Game of Thrones" and "Walking Dead Compendium" as two series that see major circulation in the leisure reading section, emphasizes leisure reading as enjoyable.
She defined her section as "whatever you want to read for fun," whether it be a serious, nonfiction book like "Argo," which spawned the 2012 Academy Award winning film, or something like "The Hunger Games" series.
"We have a few nonfiction books that are more populous," Berry said. "They're not written in such an academic tone that they are hard to deal with and struggle through. Leisure reading is written for anyone to read.
"It's not academic in the sense that it will go over your head, no matter what area you are in."
Stringfield ultimately points out how "important reading has been in so many of our lives," citing a series close to many students' hearts, including hers.
"For so many of us, we couldn't even begin to imagine our childhoods without the 'Harry Potter' series," Stringfield said. "In little ways and big ways, reading changes and inspires our lives."