I graduated university in June and, in a move similar to pretty much every student I know, I often joked about never reading for fun anymore. It was always ‘read that textbook’ or ‘read those articles’ and never ‘hey, hows about we all read whatever we want and just chill?’. University can be a bit like being forced to juggle a dozen things at once; a social life, studying, a job, family, a relationship. Actually, forget a ‘bit’, it’s exactly like trying to juggle multiple things at once. In the end, it can leave very little time for anything else. Still, I was thinking about this concept of university standing in the way of being able to read for pleasure and, as I had this blog post coming up, thought I’d try and make a discussion out of it.
So. What are my thoughts on the subject?
Dissertation is the first thing that comes to mind. Gosh, that monster of an assignment completely messed with my life for the entirety of its creation. All undergrads dread it and all graduates look back in relief and/or horror at the stress it induced. I spent the week before it was due literally only leaving my room for food and then stumbling wide eyed back to my computer and continuing to type. And yet I can’t help but realise—
I inflicted the whole blasted thing on myself.
Yeah. I said it. I picked the topic, I decided what I was going to do, and I was the one who knew I’d have to read around the subject (my dissertation was a short ghost story if anyone’s interested). I picked something that I enjoyed doing, something I was passionate about, and then wrote fifteen thousand words on the subject. So— have I figured it out? Should I have just stopped complaining about the choice I had made and got on with things?
Nah, it’s not that simple. I don’t think it matters too much that I picked a topic I liked. Work is still work, it doesn’t matter if you chose the work, or even if you enjoy doing work. I chose something that I loved and, theoretically, that should have been enough. Maybe if it had been a passion project I was doing in my spare time it would have been different. But it wasn’t. I had to get something in and I had to make up fifteen thousand words of that something and that was out of my control. I guess what I am stumbling towards saying is that reading for pleasure is more than the freedom to choose to read something that you like— it is the freedom to choose when and for how long you read it for.
As a side note, I’m one of the lucky students who had complete freedom to choose their dissertation topic. Some don’t get that choice.
Alright, I may have found some sort of definition of reading for pleasure, but is it so incompatible with the rest of university life? Or does it sometimes fit in neater than one might expect? I think there is some leeway. I mean, if you take a course that you absolutely despise then maybe you aren’t going to find much room for enjoyment. I suppose it also depends on what you study— not all courses have the same type of reading. If you are studying maths but also love romance novels you might still find yourself unable to indulge in what you love. On the flip side, if you are studying English literature but really love scientific journals, the course isn’t going to give you a lot of opportunities to explore that while also studying.
Me? I’m lucky. I graduated in English Studies and, as an avid reader, I was certainly anchored in the right place. It exposed me to a lot of literature I hadn’t experience before and, as I chose my modules, I could tailor my programme to what I was interested in. Again, not all students have this opportunity and, even if they do, the reading material is still out of their, of our, control. Still, even as someone who studied English, I missed my sciences and my maths and my history. And, as someone who was studying English, I didn’t always have the time to spare to pursue those other interests. Reading for pleasure doesn’t always have to be about novels. Sometimes it can be about not having enough time to read the New Scientist because you have five articles to read for the next day.
I think even here, even in something as basic as course choice, the whole idea of prescribed work comes in. There is always the next deadline, always a checklist to tick off, and, so, even when doing something you enjoy there is always the awareness of how it’s compulsory. There is a certain freedom in idly picking up a book; a freedom that simply isn’t present in university courses. Besides, doing the same thing for three years? (Or four depending on your course). It gets a little repetitive. It can be boring to bury yourself in the same topic for months at a time. You can begin to hate something you once loved.
That and the fact that engaging the brain enough to read is hard when you’ve spend all your energy making it through several articles and a novel. Eyes get tired, brains get tired, and sometimes there is simply nothing left over from studying.
Are we doomed then? To always bemoan the days we used to be able to read for pleasure?
Nothing so dramatic. I think the problem is, at its core, one of balance. No, I’m not going to tell all students they should get their lives sorted and make time for reading what they enjoy. That’s dumb. I know how hard it is to do that, how many responsibilities students have to juggle, and I think that if we’re all aware of the problem we can try and beat the system. Maybe try and fit in a few more breaks, give yourself a well-deserved rest, and then hop straight back into whatever it was your university overlords demand you do next. I’m not going to tell you how to read for pleasure, that would be weird, but I am going to say that you deserve to be able to. We all do.
I think it is possible, I don’t think university completely eradicates the possibility, but I do think that it makes it a lot harder. Urgh, that feels so negative! I hate that I don’t have any easy answers. If any of you have any tips, any advice based on what you think about this problem, feel free to comment. Other than that, I just want to say – never stop pursuing what makes you happy. Even if that happiness comes from curling up on the sofa and reading the corniest book you can find.
(Featured image source: http://www.thenationalstudent.com/Careers/2014-11-25/University_Challenged_Are_you_considering_dropping_out_of_uni.html)