Our Reading Lives

Reading After Grad School

Ashley Riordan

Staff Writer

Ashley Riordan is a graduate student in California who works in a library, makes videos about books at climbthestacks.com, and blogs about reading, writing, and travel at ashleyriordan.com. Follow her on Twitter @climbthestacks.

I managed to get through college with my reading habit still intact. Majoring in literature helped, but the reading I did outside of school was what gave me the most joy. Then I started graduate school and within a month my personal reading habit had been reduced to the couple pages I might read before waking up hours later with a book on my face.

My first year of grad school was all consuming, but eventually I adjusted to the workload and returned to my old hobbies. I started writing again and exercising, but aside from the few classics I picked up while spending my Summer working in a library, I didn’t do any reading. My program was so reading-intensive that the last thing I wanted to do with my free time was read.

But, of course, when reading is a big part of your identity, you don’t just let it go. You cling desperately and interrogate your classmates to see if they are still reading for fun. I was looking ahead realizing the workload was not going to lighten or grow less reading-intensive, so if I didn’t have the time or interest to read on my own now, then maybe I never would again.

Several people pointed out to me that I was still doing a lot of reading, but the reading you do on your own has a special quality, and I didn’t find academic reading satisfying in the same way. When it felt like academia was threatening to take over my whole life, it became even more important to me to have an identity outside of school, and I felt like reading should be part of that.

The librarians I worked with assured me that I would get back to reading eventually, and to be honest, I only half believe them but figured if I was going to trust anyone on this, it should be librarians.

Once I finished coursework, I did start reading again, but I did not ease back into the habit as gracefully as I was expecting. I had become so used to scanning a huge volume of text that I no longer knew how to sit down and read at a normal pace. My eyes would jump around and I found myself more concerned with how many pages I had left than how I felt about the story.

I stopped interrogating my classmates about whether they were reading for fun and started questioning adults who read to see how and when they did it, because reading felt like an add-on rather than an integral part of my life. Even after a couple years, I still feel this way sometimes.

I found my reading tastes had shifted significantly. Several people told me that after grad school, they got back into reading by devouring all kinds of what they affectionately called “crap,” but I was suddenly genuinely interested in reading the books I’d only pretended to be interested in when I was in college. I think because those books had become a lot easier to read after years spent reading difficult philosophical texts.

In my time away from reading, the internet became a much bigger part of my life, so one of the great joys of getting back into reading was finding that it is now a much more social activity for me. I belong to multiple reading communities that all keep me excited about reading.

Grad school changed reading for me in ways I both appreciate and regret. My reading life has a depth to it that maybe wasn’t there before, but not the ease it once possessed. My motivations for reading have changed and even the magic of reading feels different to me now, but it still feels like magic and I am still incapable of describing it (I just spent 45-minutes trying). I’m relieved to call myself a reader again.