Pleasure Reading vs. College: How Books’ Roles Changed in the Face of My Education

From the time I learned how to read as a young child – and probably even before that, when my parents read to me – I always loved books. Books were my sanctuary and my escape. If I felt lonely, reading a book put me in the company of diverse casts of characters. When I longed for a chance to explore a world I had no access to, books were my ticket to faraway lands and times. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I almost always had my nose in a book, and I cycled through them at a rapid rate. We constantly went to the library for my next fix, but I was also gifted my fair share of books, mine to keep on my bookshelves for the rest of eternity. 

But despite a loyal and devoted relationship with books for many years, that all changed when I started college. No, I didn’t suddenly lose interest in books. Rather, college took up all of my time, leaving none left for pleasure reading. Between classes, endless homework, an unenviable 4-hour daily commute, and a part-time job, all of my hobbies were, by necessity, pushed out. I no longer had time to spare for reading, computer games (I loved Sims and Nancy Drew), movies, or seeing friends. 

All this isn’t to say I completely stopped reading. I was still reading – in fact, more than ever before. I double majored in English and Communication, and between the two – especially the former – I had plenty of reading material to race through each day. Sure, plenty of it was textbooks and essays, but I also got to dive into plenty of novels. I read Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thakeray, Franz Kafka, and Virginia Woolf. My assignments took me through newer novels by Mark Z. Danielewski, Americo Paredes, Junot Díaz, and Danzy Senna. I read amazing books from a range of times and authors, and I learned to appreciate literature in a new way. 

But I wasn’t reading for pleasure. With all of these college-assigned books, I was only able to sit with the stories for a short amount of time. I’d rush through reading them to keep up on my homework – for 3-4 classes at a time, mind you – and then would spend some time working through my deeper thoughts so I could produce an essay. It was a quick pace that left little room for enjoyment, or even enough time for the novels in a way that they could sink in as fully. Reading wasn’t so much fun anymore; rather, it was just another assignment within an overpacked schedule. Even when I loved a book I’d been assigned, there was little room to enjoy the experience of reading it. 

After four years as an undergrad, and then one more as a master’s student, I was excited to get back to pleasure reading. I was excited to choose my own books and read at my own pace for the first time in five years. 

I had thought I’d want to take a few months off after graduation. But within a couple of weeks, I felt the need to get my hands on a book. So in summer 2013, while working as an intern in New York City – and living with a kind friend and his generous family (no way could I afford rent there!!) – I bought a book, just for fun, for the first time in half a decade. 

I’d planned to read it slowly, but the story so enraptured me that I devoured it in a couple of days. My long subway commute and freed-up evenings helped a lot with that. After a few books, it felt like the old me was back. Reading was my passion again, and it felt like I had a lot of lost time to make up for. There were some growing pains along the way – stay tuned for a future blog, which will go into that more fully – and a meandering path that was fairly casual at first, but by 2015 books were consuming my life once more. 

Following five years more or less away from my reading hobby, I was able to rediscover my dormant love of reading. My English classes certainly helped ease the waiting, but I’m happy to say that pleasure reading made a comeback in my life, stronger than ever before, and was here to stay. 

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