Fall is just around the corner and soon students will return to class if they haven’t already done so. Many will be greeted with a stack of books and a syllabus telling them what to read and when. Those heading for college or graduate school will likely find themselves not only reading in preparation for class but also searching out academic journals and books for purposes of writing research papers. In other words, they will be doing a great deal of reading.
School can unintentionally zap the joy right out of reading as students find themselves trapped by a wall of homework. A recent tour of a library at a midwestern law school reminded me of this. Among the legal treatises and practice guides was a small section of popular reading titles. A sign pointing to these titles read, “Remember When Reading Was Fun.” I laughed then grimaced. I remembered those law school days when schoolwork took up so much time and effort I barely had enough brain space to remember to eat. Whatever brain space remained after studying went towards two things: cardio and reading fiction. Regarding the former, physical exertion has a way of clearing the head and burning off excess energy that would otherwise be used to dwell on all the work still to be done. As for the second, it helped keep me sane.
As an academic law librarian (that means I work in a library at a law school), I see stressed out students on a daily basis. They come into the library looking for legal treatises, academic journals, or other materials. They are not usually searching out these materials for fun but for purposes of writing legal memorandums, law review articles, or other writing assignments. At the beginning of the semester the students are all smiles and happy to talk about their non-school related interests and goals. An aspiring attorney I met last year told me all about her love of young adult literature. Another was all about gaming. By the end of the semester fewer smiles are seen and rarely is there a student to be found lounging in the library causally reading the latest bestseller.
I get it. As the semester goes on and midterms and finals start to rear their unwelcome heads, students get busy and even worse, burned out. What worries me is when students give up non-academic reading all together, not just temporarily but even after they have completed their formal education. This is a mistake. Even as school takes over your life it is important to do things that bring you pleasure. If reading comics makes you happy, then read them. It will help you maintain your sanity. Even if you can only find ten free minutes every couple days, take it. Don’t let a dry academic text make you forget about the pleasures of a romance or the excitement of an adventure.
This isn’t to imply that academic reading cannot be enjoyable or that it should be abandoned. As I’ve written before I very much support assigned reading. It can expose students to worlds they didn’t know existed. So stay open to new things. An assigned book could turn out to be a new favorite. Maybe the textbook the professor chose wasn’t the most interesting but the topic interests you. That’s fine, look for other books on the subject. (By the way, reference librarians can help you with this.)
Above all, remember that reading meant to be fun. Even if it isn’t at the moment, it can be and it will be, again. Also remember that semesters, quarters, and even school end. Eventually your assigned reading days will be over.