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Lit How college nearly killed my love of reading for pleasure

Sep. 29, 2021
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You’d think that an English major would, like, love reading. The kind of love that’s borderline obnoxious, the English major stereotype epitomized: Doc Martens, a New Yorker canvas tote, and way too much to say about whatever they're currently reading for class. It’s a stereotype that I wholeheartedly and proudly embody. But behind the aesthetic lurks a more frustrating reality. If I’m being honest, college nearly killed one of my greatest loves: reading for pleasure. 

No longer can I happily pick up a short-story collection or Obama’s latest memoir with ease. After years of poring over hundreds of books for assignments, the idea of spending my free time with even a sleazy beach read fills me with dread. I’m clearly someone who has spent the vast majority of her life reading, but college, which is presumably a book lover’s dream, suppressed my love of reading for pleasure into near non-existence. 

I spent four years reading thousands of pages and hundreds of books, all of which were incredibly interesting and ripe for analysis. But even the most dedicated writer and reader is not a computer, and constantly being assigned novels to pore through inevitably made me dread reading. Especially when my phone and quick-entertainment apps enticed my impossibly short attention span, sitting quietly with a 700-page epic did not sound appealing. Whether it was social media and the attention economy or just my own boredom that drove me to the brink, I found myself groaning every time I cracked open a classic.

After several years of reading Old English and classic literature, my brain is simply tired. Studying something you love is undoubtedly a meaningful feat, but a major as time-consuming and idea-heavy as English has reinforced the illusion that I must constantly be thinking critically about something important. I feel a frustrating amount of anxiety at the possibility that majoring in English and choosing writing as a career has exhausted my ability to genuinely enjoy reading. Especially because I want to continue down a creative path, the inkling that reading, which once brought me so much happiness, is no longer a priority can be quite a destabilizing feeling. My brain spirals and I think, How long before I stop reading for fun altogether?

My underlying sense of guilt when I choose mindless entertainment over reading is undeniable. But then again, why do I feel so guilty in the first place? I’m balancing classes, jobs, extracurriculars, and reminding myself to drink more water than coffee each day. So why am I still beating myself up about not picking up the latest bestseller? At the end of a long day, I am trying to accept that reading for fun might be a thing of the future and not the present. Even a bibliophile like myself needs some down time to binge some Netflix.

Rather than worry about how a lack of reading for pleasure will result in some loss of self, I’ve ultimately realized that setting such a high standard would actually be what sets this loss in motion. Since graduating college, I have created a feedback loop of literary stress, in which I scold myself for not reading enough, push my mind into spiraling anxiety, and drive myself so insane that of course I don’t have the mental capacity to just browse a few pages of a new novel. 

The pressure I put on myself to constantly read for pleasure has made it impossible to experience that pleasure at all, for I constantly feel as though I am not doing enough, reading enough, enjoying enough. How could I ever expect myself to read for pleasure when I was constantly worrying? 

I choose to believe that one day my relationship with literature will exist in a happy medium. This, I hope, is where I will read simply because I love it. Pleasure and pressure are inherently juxtaposed, and while I know I won’t be able to avoid stress and self-doubt forever, perhaps reading for pleasure will become a release, not a chore.

I’m comforted by the fact that reading for pleasure will inevitably come back to me. The scene already lives in my mind: me, driving along a quiet road, some choice novel sitting shotgun, just waiting for me to pull over and peel it open. As night settles, I smile to myself, knowing my long-awaited reunion with reading for pleasure has finally come.

Until then, the newest memoir or buzziest release will have to wait. And that’s okay. I know I’ll make it there one day.