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Arts & Culture, Opinion

19th October 2021

Is Reading for Pleasure a Lost Cause?

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to read. It’s been my way of escapism, my solace, and my way to de-stress for the past twelve years. Reading has always been a fundamental part of my life. So why am I currently finding myself struggling to make time for it?

A love of classical literature

I began reading Charles Dickens at six years old and have been broadening my literary horizons ever since. But it was in the early years of secondary school when my passion for great classical literature began. What interested me were the techniques employed to challenge conventional thinking. Many of these are just as relevant in literature and film today. I found myself drawn to each piece of literature that I studied and the traditions that it challenged. I also loved seeing how the story could reshape my own thinking and challenge my perceptions of the world.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

I am often asked which writer made me fall in love with literature. To that, my answer is Jane Austen. Her depictions of marriage and love, in the Regency era, are most probably why I hold such an idealistic view of romance.

One of the most popular romances of Austen’s works is that of the famous Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is probably the most revolutionary feminist novel I have ever read. Her commentary, across all of her novels, on the social injustices for women and the rigidity of the patriarchy, allows a true insight into the internalised misogyny of the time. Austen’s refusal to accept a society riddled with oppression and stereotyping against women enabled her to explore feminist issues. She was also able to challenge mainstream values through her characters. This is particularly seen through Elizabeth Bennet’s courageous rejection of Darcy, when he disrespected her.

Defying gender limitations is a prominent and continuous trope throughout Austen’s writing. Her ability to draw everything back into a romanticised ending, where women are celebrated and respected, is truly what made me fall in love with literature.

Balancing course reading with pleasure reading

I am now in the fourth week of my first year working towards my English Literature bachelors degree. To say the reading has been intense would be an understatement.

As we’ve established, I love to read. There’s nothing I’d rather do, in an evening, than curl up with a book, whether that be a set text or reading for pleasure. In the last fortnight I have already read some of the most challenging early English I have ever come across. These include the Medieval poem ‘Sir Orfeo’ and the Renaissance play ‘Doctor Faustus’.

However, from start to finish, reading, understanding and annotating ‘Sir Orfeo’ took me twelve hours. Reading ‘Doctor Faustus’ took me slightly less time, but annotating the play brought the total time on the text to around the same as ‘Sir Orfeo’. Despite the complexity and the time-consuming nature of the narratives, I found studying them extremely informative on the contexts of the time.

On top of this reading, my course requires secondary reading for the benefit of my essays. This has always been something that I have enjoyed, gaining historical and social contexts for the pieces I study, as well as alternative interpretations of critics and other students. The bare minimum post-lecture reading can take around two to three hours, but I’ve never really been one for the bare minimum.

To say I only have seven contact hours per week, the majority of my non-contact hours are spent reading. This doesn’t leave much time to read for pleasure.

Old fashioned books in a library behind a ladder
Image Credit: Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

A bucket list of novels

My pleasure reading can vary and I’m always looking to branch out to other authors. However, I’ve always been one for classical novels: Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the Brontes. In fact, I have almost finished the whole Austen collection, with just ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Mansfield Park’ to read. If I’m being completely honest though, I don’t envision myself reading these during the semester. I just simply don’t think I’ll have the time.

I have a ‘bucket list’ for my reading, full of novels I want to have read by the time I’m teaching. It’s probably an overly ambitious list, given how much reading I have to do for my degree, but I hope to have it finished before the end of my final year of undergraduate.

Finding ways to de-stress

I try to make time for pleasure reading, but often it just doesn’t seem possible, and sometimes that’s okay. We’re university students; the expectation is for us to balance healthy social and academic lives. We aren’t always going to find the time to fit in everything we want to do.

There’s always less time in the day than we realise, especially when we are in and out of campus. But as long as we can find some time to de-stress, that’s all that matters. I would read for pleasure every day if I had the time, but the truthful answer is I really don’t. Honestly, I barely have the time to do all of my course reading but that’s okay too.

So, I suppose even if there isn’t enough time to read for pleasure, as long as we make time to do some of the activities that de-stress us, it’s not all so bad.

Need more novel inspiration? Check out some of LGSM’s book reviews here.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash