Reading is what?

It’s no secret that university involves a lot of reading. My human geography course requires me to read seemingly endless articles on a massive range of subjects, including but not limited to war memorials, the 2008 financial crisis and voting patterns. When I applied for university, I wasn’t put off by the amount of reading that would be required of me – I had heard people complaining about it and thought they were just being dramatic. Surely it couldn’t be that hard? I certainly didn’t think so, I used to devour entire books in a single sitting; I would stay up all night reading because I couldn’t put a book down. I love reading so much that my first tattoo was inspired by one of my favourite books (Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – it’s magical, read it after your deadlines). Reading was my treat after doing all my schoolwork; it was my escape from a depressing reality and books gave me more joy than any film ever could. The problem comes when this escape is taken away and academia becomes my life.

University has majorly changed my behaviour – and the behaviour of many of my peers – around reading. It turns out the people who warned me about reading at uni were right: once you’ve done your academic reading you just can’t face doing it for fun. The style of what I’m reading is very different, and the content is like nothing I’ve ever read before. I’m in my second year now and to this day I have not read an article that wasn’t dense and difficult to read; it sometimes takes me hours just to read 15 pages – nothing like the fantasy books I could power through in an evening when I was a teenager! This is a real shame because the books I took to uni in the hopes of reading will continue gathering dust until I learn to manage my work-reading and my leisure-reading.

I think the main reason why I’ve stopped reading for fun as much as I used to is that I feel guilty for doing it. I think “if I can be reading a novel then I should be reading a geography article instead” (and apparently the maps found at the start of my beloved fantasy novels don’t count). I’ve started re-reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm as part of my dissertation preparations and it’s the only novel I haven’t felt guilty about reading. I think it’s a shame that so many students are too exhausted to read or feel guilty about doing it. I am not suggesting that academic articles should be easy to read; university is challenging and reading to a high level is a vital skill for students to learn. It would be nice, however, if students were left with the time, desire and mental capacity to read for fun, because I believe that’s equally important.

I’ve attempted to combat my difficulty with reading by continuing to buy books – bank account and room space be damned (it’s a real problem), and by making friends with other readers – one of my best friends in Sheffield used to run a wellbeing café called the Storybook Café, which involved drinking lots of hot chocolate while discussing books and mental health. She understands my cognitive dissonance around reading, but we haven’t yet been able to solve it and I’ll probably just have to wait until the summer holidays to start reading for fun again in earnest.

It is hard to find a balance between reading for uni work and reading for fun, but I do believe it is possible (otherwise how would English Literature students cope?). I haven’t figured this balance out yet so please tell me if you have because I am desperate to know. In the meantime, I’ll keep buying and ignoring books until I’m crushed by a pile of them in their desperate attempts to get my attention, whilst simultaneously reading academic articles that frazzle my poor fragile brain.

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