Is it possible to make reading a habit of discipline alongside education or is academic reading more than enough reading for students?

I grew up reading; As a child, I would devour books. One or even two a week sometimes. I am never more at home than when I have a book in my hands, and it’s my dream to one day have a library in my house. Despite all of this, I barely read anymore. I often joke to my friends that I’m a bookworm who hasn’t finished a book in months, but it’s true. The last time I finished a book was in July. Nowadays, reading is only something I can do when I have enough mental energy. It takes effort to focus on books, whereas before, I read to relax. And let’s be real, what University student has enough mental energy to spend on reading for fun? We’re only 4 weeks into the academic year, and everyone I speak to is behind in one way or another. Where are we supposed to find the time or effort to read on top of everything else? Ask a lot of people, especially the older generations, and their advice is simply to turn reading into a force of habit, a discipline. But is that even possible or would forcing ourselves to read take away from the enjoyment of the activity?

There’s no denying that the amount of ‘academic’ reading we have to do significantly takes away from the enjoyment of reading as a relaxing hobby. For me, at least, every time I sit down to read for fun, it feels like I’m wasting time. Time that could be spent writing essays or reading academic journals. Even books related to my course that haven’t been specifically set for us to read feel like a waste of time. Especially considering I sometimes have six academic articles per module to read in a week. Even when I do want to read, I can usually only manage a couple of chapters before I’m too exhausted to continue. So, what’s the solution? 

I don’t think making reading a habit of discipline is the solution because, really, isn’t that what academic reading is? Reading that is draining and dull because it’s forced on us. For me, and I imagine for many book lovers, reading is a form of escapism. It’s something we choose to do when the world gets too overwhelming to relax and recuperate. By turning it into a habit, you take away its power. Instead of being a tool for coping with reality, it becomes yet another chore amongst a long list of chores to check off. To be immersed by a book is to forget the world exists and you simply can’t do that when trapped by a timetable. 

Whilst reading an hour every night before going to bed may have been possible when we were younger and the days were longer and less stressful, we must face facts and realize life is just too busy now. The life of a University student is too flexible and ever-changing to set effective habits. We often make plans last minute; our timetables are different every week. Considering this, on top of the fact that most student events and activities are hosted in the evenings because we have contact hours during the day; having a set time every day to read wouldn’t work for most of us. Maybe instead, universities should dedicate more effort to encouraging reading for fun. Lots of universities have a dedicated sports day, so why not a dedicated reading day? Libraries could have cosy spots with comfy seats to create a calming atmosphere, lecturers could recommend books, etc. Whilst this might not actively encourage students to read more for fun, it would help to create an environment in which it’s okay to read purely for pleasure. 

Featured image: Ali Edwards on Flickr with license’.

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