It seems ironic that one of the reasons I applied to study English in the first place was because I enjoyed reading, but it has been increasingly difficult to maintain reading as a hobby the further I get into my degree. Once a favourite pastime, reading for me is now something that all too often gets ignored during term time.
Reading for fun is not the same as reading a book to study it. This may be obvious to some people, but it took a while for me to realise that my love of Jane Austen books didn’t necessarily mean I would enjoy studying one of them. In fact, many of the books that I enjoyed studying the most are the ones that I would never normally read. But with so much reading to do for university, how could there be time to read recreationally too? Most of the time – especially in term time – there isn’t.
Using my local library’s access to e-books and audiobooks during the vacations has actually been a big part of getting me into reading again, as many of the books that I wanted to read, from Bridget Jones’s Diary to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, were available to borrow. I’ve also been revisiting series I enjoyed when I was younger, finally going back to the Percy Jackson series. Importantly, I’ve been trying to actually get through the books I do own but have yet to read, like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I think it’s crucial to use libraries and actually get through the books you already own; reading has been increasingly commodified by social media influencers showing off their beautiful and expensive hardbacks of every book in existence and in my opinion, this is not a positive thing. If I consume online content about books, I prefer influencers who actually discuss what they are reading and are aware of their potential contributions to consumerism, as opposed to just making ‘book hauls’, as those types of videos actually inspire me to read rather than just to buy more books.
I think it’s important to figure out what books you actually want to read, outside of the types of books that other people are reading, or that are most popular. For me, that tends to be books in the fantasy genre. It’s also important to remember that the age categories put on books are more about marketing those books to certain audiences than telling you what you can and can’t read. For example, Percy Jackson might be categorised as teen or middle grade, but that doesn’t mean you can be ‘too old’ to enjoy a book.
Making time for reading during term time is certainly difficult. I often listen to audiobooks and read comics, because it can be more feasible than trying to get through a big novel while also juggling the busyness of a university term. I also am trying to let myself put a book down and move onto another one if I don’t like it. Hobbies are supposed to be fun, so what is the point of trying to read a book that you don’t like? It’s not like if you give up on a book that you’re reading for fun, anything is going to happen. The only negative thing about not reading a book is that you can’t tell other people that you’ve read it – and that shouldn’t be the goal of reading.
For me, reading for pleasure is about finding what you enjoy and reading that. If you’re spending all your time studying the likes of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Milton, then why shouldn’t you be able to read anything you want in your own time, whether that means fantasy, sci-fi, poetry or anything else? I think that was the problem for me. I just didn’t know what I wanted to read; I tried to read a lot of things that I didn’t really want to read because I felt like I should be reading it. Admittedly, sometimes I was pleasantly surprised, but now that I know what I want to read I have found it a lot easier to choose books that I know I’ll like. I rely a lot on reading reviews and looking at online discussions where people recommend books based on what they personally enjoy. I also often ask people I know with similar taste in books to me for their recommendations.
All in all, I’m a lot better at choosing books now, and I’m finding it easier to make time to read them, the more I make a conscious effort to do so. I hope anyone who can relate to this article feels reassured that being a student doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying books!