Sam Greenhalgh / Flickr
Sam Greenhalgh / Flickr

Powering through the pages

The benefits of reading more are endless. Retreating into an alternative reality is a classic form of escapism which is incredibly beneficial to one’s wellbeing, as well as the fact that books can be incredibly informative on a wide range of issues. Delving into a Dickens is indicative of Victorian England, and even a fantasy world such as is depicted in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games sets the mind thinking about how society could possibly get to this detrimental point, given that it is inspired by the exaggeration of current world politics and environmental issues.

Having chosen an English degree myself, it’s safe to say that I find reading enjoyable, and I would assume that the others on my course feel likewise; however, it always seems that despite doing a degree in something we supposedly love, all course-mates alike are caught on a daily basis having a whinge about all the reading they have to do. Just what is it about books that sometimes require a lot of discipline in order to reach the enjoyment?

Not every text assigned to you by your tutor needs to be put on a pedestal….

 Sometimes, this can be a bit of mind-set issue; when you’re at university, most people would rather be eating, sleeping, or raving, right? It’s easy to forget that you actually spend time in the library because it’s not really the highlight you’re going to share on your Instagram. A lot of people find that it takes forcing yourself to read to realise that you’re actually going to enjoy it. For example, setting your alarm for an hour and sitting down in a cosy corner with that novel for your seminar. Also, breaking your reading into half an hour or hour slots is a really effective way to ensure productivity and enjoyment.

 However, sometimes the reason you need to discipline yourself with reading is nothing to do with mindset, or your own love of procrastination; something that a lot of people at university are scared to admit is that not every text assigned to you by your tutor needs to be put on a pedestal. Have you ever read a book by a really notable writer or scholar, (maybe even Shakespeare – gasp!), and thought actually, this is just a bit rubbish? But that second voice in your head is still determined to plough through it, either because you’re a dedicated student or because you simply want to like something because it will make you seem like more ‘academic’.

I’ve recently had this experience with Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace; one thousand three hundred pages of text pitched as changing the face of Russian literature, enriched with evocative characters, gripping war scenes and philosophical discussion. Such a renowned piece of literature surely shouldn’t have been a chore, however I spent my entire summer slogging through it and praying for it to be over soon. But that’s the thing with these incredibly long books: they’re a commitment.

If you don’t read it, there’s the possibility that you could be missing out…

I recently resolved that books need to be approached with the same attitude that human relationships require. With War and Peace, for example, I put myself through many traumatic hours, because by the time you’re far enough in that you can conclude that you aren’t enjoying yourself, you kind of want to discipline yourself and see it go the full distance. You’ve invested too much into it at this point to just give up. Sometimes this is rewarding, for example, you don’t know what’s going to be around the corner over those next five hundred pages – if you don’t read it, there’s the possibility that you could be missing out on the most wonderful thing you’ve ever encountered.

Like relationships, sometimes things take perseverance. However, there comes a point where if something is no longer serving you, improving you personally or you simply aren’t getting any enjoyment out of it anymore, maybe it is time to let it go. It’s worth considering that the reasons you might have to discipline yourself with reading might be down to the writing itself, not your ability as a reader. War and Peace, admittedly, requires an endurance that I simply cannot muster.


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