By Claudia Schwarz
Everyone warned me, but I refused to believe them: studying literature could potentially destroy your love of reading. So here I am, desperately trying to take my mind off of my pile of assignments by getting lost in Philippa Gregory’s fiction. But I can’t. My mind keeps wandering and I have lost the irresistible, magical force of escapism. Losing your interest in literature as a result of your studies seems to affect quite a number of people. After almost three years of studying literature and linguistics I’m exhausted, and reading for fun, just for fun, is not possible anymore. Anyone else feel the same? I now disappear into YouTube and Netflix because books don’t give me the same sense of relaxation they did before.
But why is that? A potential reason could be the sheer quantity of reading required of university students. No matter if you’re studying literature, law or economics, the reading list can keep you occupied for a lifetime. Law students seem to be especially affected by this. I suppose speed reading large volumes of dry case law will kill your desire to pick up any kind of book. As a literature student, reading a journal article about the psychological impact of the Irish Troubles or Chaucer’s use of the imperative form takes time. Being able to absorb and understand the arguments posed in these articles probably means reading it more than once, and that’s the easy part. After that, it has to be dissected and integrated into your own work. Add those hours up for all your courses and you can wave goodbye to your social life.
A few of my friends said that they haven’t read a whole novel since finishing school. Three years without books. I can’t say I’m much different. I try to read during the holidays, but that feels more like an obligation and it takes me a while to get into it. Lisa Matthews is an economics student and the definition of a bookworm. She started university the same year as me and the number of novels and terrible fanfiction she read drastically decreased as time went by: “I still read in my free time, but I don’t connect with the storyline as I used to. That ‘fire’ and excitement isn’t there anymore. I don’t identify with characters as frequently or intensely. Book characters were like friends to me. You laugh and cry with them, you learn from them and are sad once they’re gone. I do really miss that connection”.
Does it ever get better? Writer Jonathan Firbank finished his degree in 2013 and mentioned that his passion for books did come back, but never to the level it was before he started university: “Reading feels like working out now, it’s something I do for self-improvement instead of enjoyment. Audiobooks were a neat trick to convince my brain it wasn’t working though, so I happily go through hundreds of hours of them every year.”
Why are the words put in patterns miss? I thought stories were free?
I thought stories could be absolutely anything they wanted to be?
Because they are.
Stop asking questions.
Stay focused on the task.
I start again.
R eh ah duh ing
Ree add ing
Reading is difficult for me.
(Reading is difficult, by Julia Head)
Reading can seem like a tedious task, but it is supposed to be relaxing, freeing even, as the speaker points out in Julia Head’s poem. It is something that teleports you into a different world and lets you be a different person. Of course, we do get distracted by the vast fascination and opportunities posed on the internet. That might be scrolling through Instagram, watching YouTube videos on a loop or devouring your third series of the week on Netflix. Anna Battigelli, Plattsburgh State professor of English, says that “our internet addiction interferes with the concentration and focus we need in order to read complex texts.” This makes sense from a scientific perspective, but not all novels are complex, and the internet isn’t all bad. Literature is more accessible now. Just think of e-books, kindles and even audio books. This way, the literary experience is diversified. If you’re sick of deciphering words and want an alternative sensory experience you can listen to the book instead of reading it.
I am in a slump, literally speaking, and I’ve decided to do something about it, starting right now. I want to rekindle my love for reading and I’ll start easy with simple page turners and then work my way through. I need to forget the heavy stuff for a while, turn to fluff and hopefully manage to finally get lost again. If you are in the same boat as me, I encourage you to try it too. Or
don’t, that’s fine as well. Don’t force yourself to pick up a book again, sometimes you just need a break. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.