Throughout my four years in and out of higher education every summer has included a chorus of my friends crying out, “I can’t read anymore! I’m broken! I try to read but I can’t! I just end up watching reruns of Friends instead!” Most of these friends are self-described Readers who find this sudden inability to read a blow to an important part of their identity which in turn ends up being another attack on a brain already weak from two semesters of academia. I myself have joined in this seasonal chorus since finishing my first year of undergrad and last summer it was so bad I resigned myself to a future in which I’d never really read again (I’d like to point out that my emotions frequently turn operatic when the weather is humid and that summer was terribly humid). Just about a year after that depressing resignation here I am back at my old pace going through fiction and poetry and even academic papers. So what gave? What makes this summer different from the ones before? Why no reading fatigue?
Before I go any farther I want to make sure everyone knows that this is not the first Book Riot piece on reading fatigue. This is however our first piece on post-academics reading fatigue that I’m aware of and I sincerely believe that the fatigue after a semester or two of higher ed is distinct from the forms of fatigue my cohorts have written about. From research comprised based on my experience and the anecdotal evidence from my friends I think that post-academic reading fatigue comes from a specific root with a simple cure.
To be honest I’d actually forgotten about post-academic reading fatigue (from here on referred to as reading fatigue) until the first round of cries from my friends hit Twitter, Facebook and my phone. It wasn’t until I was consoling a recently graduated friend that I really thought back on my own experiences and suddenly an answer clicked in my mind. You see this isn’t my first summer without reading fatigue: back in the summer of 2013 I was wearing out my library card and reading up a damn storm. The connection between this year and 2013? Both of those summers were preceded by at least one semester away from college. It’s this connection that made me certain that this wasn’t just a reading fatigue that struck every May and June like some sort of Seasonal Affective Disorder but something tied to a year of higher education.
I’m convinced that this comes from the fact that reading for classes frequently ends up being an unnatural form of reading. When I, and I believe many others, read for pleasure it’s often an immersive experience that travels at our own pace. On the other hand reading for academia often becomes a task of quantity over quality as we struggle to pound through assigned readings. No matter how well intentioned we start out we end up turning into skimmers as we try to get the information we need in as little time as possible. (Yes, I know that there are some of you out there who don’t do any of this and yes, I am utterly jealous of you.) After enough months of this how can it not rewire the reading parts of our brain?
So how can we undo the rewiring of our brains? While there’s something to be said for reading our favorite authors and rereading our favorite books I think we need to go beyond this and give ourselves permission to take a break from reading. As frustrating as this can be (particularly for those of us who’ve been putting aside those big novels for summer reading) it’s what I’ve found to be most effective for me and my friends who are coming off of a year of reading on someone else’s schedule. After frying our brains we should be kind to ourselves and give ourselves the time to recuperate before we can get back to what we love. I’ve seen too many fellow readers try to force themselves back too soon and become even more frustrated as they struggle through a sentence and end up guiltily slinking over to Netflix. At the back of my brain I worry that this cycle of frustration and guilt has the potential to turn us off from reading for months or years or maybe even decades.
In closing I want to address the readers who are currently struggling with this form of fatigue. Readers Recovering From Academia! You are not broken but rather you’ve suffered at the hands of an unjust form of reading! You are not alone! Take care of yourself! Curl up with a immersive television show! Enjoy the outdoors! Work on allowing your brain to recover without shame or guilt! The books you want to read can wait and when it’s time to return you’ll do so feeling refreshed and with new vigor! Go forth and take a break from reading!