Can a College Student Read for Pleasure?

I recently read an article called “5 Books I've Read Since Academia Freed Me from Its Clutches.” Aside from listing what these five books are (many of which sound interesting and none of which, fittingly, I’ve been able to read since I first encountered the article several months ago), the writer also discusses why it’s so hard to read while still in the “clutches” of academia. The journey she described, from being an avid reader as a child to being an English major with no time to read, really resonated with me.

I think a lot of us at Kenyon, especially in majors like English, came here because the school’s literary reputation made us think it was a great place to read and write. But I often feel, like the author, that I don’t actually get very much reading and writing done here. Not only do other commitments leave very little time to read just for fun, but a reading-heavy major can make you kind of hate to read. If I’m honest with myself, I have time to read things besides my assigned books, but I spend that time scrolling through social media or watching Netflix. I mean, I read all day for school—when I have a break, I’m not in the mood to do even more reading. But I don’t want to miss out on something I love for four years, and I especially don’t want to hate something I love for four years. So, until I can write my own article about the five best books I’ve read since academia freed me from its clutches, I’m writing one about ways to read when you’ve still got a while to go in those clutches.

It’s harder than I would think. I always start the semester thinking it won’t be too difficult to set aside half an hour a day to read. Flash forward to less than a month into the year, and I’m not even keeping up with my reading for classes. Maybe carving out a little time each day works for some people (little dubious that those people exist, little jealous of them if they do), but it hasn’t worked very well for me so far. Luckily there are a few other possibilities.

One thing I’ve been doing this year, since I’ve come to accept that most of the reading I do will be work, is to try not to treat it as work. I’ve found that when I sit down to read a book at my desk or in the library, I almost always hate it. I count the minutes, count the pages, skim so it goes faster, and, sometimes, I just give up. But recently, I’ve been reading school books the way I would read them if they were pleasure books. If I read sitting outside or in bed before I go to sleep, it feels much less painful and more relaxing. So, even if you don’t have time to read for pleasure, you can still get pleasure from reading. Another possibility is to re-read books you’ve already finished and liked, or to read genres that don’t take as much energy out of you. For me, that’s stuff like humor and young adult fantasy. I find that if I have something I know I’ll like and I know won’t be difficult, it’s easier to use free time for it.

Another really good option that I’ve been doing more and more is listening to audiobooks. With audiobooks, you don’t have to worry about carving out a specific time for pleasure reading. You can listen to them while you clean, do laundry, work out (if you’re the kind of terrifying person with enough willpower to exercise without music). This is 90% of the way I get reading done right now. In some ways, it’s not as nice as traditional reading because one of the things that’s really good about reading is that it requires your full attention, forcing you to slow down and relax. But, it has its upsides, too. I get through many more books that way, and it’s always fun to hear the narrator do different voices for different characters.

I definitely miss the reading I did as a kid, and I’m definitely looking forward to the point where I can write one of those best five books I’ve read this month type of posts. Until then, I guess I’ll keep listening to Harry Potter on my phone while grocery shopping.  

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