College doesn't only suck your free-reading time away, it fractures your schedule badly enough to make the hiatus last years. (Illustration by Kristen Lucius, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)
College /// Pages x

Counterintuitive, no?

I don’t read anymore, and it makes me sad.

As an English major, I spend copious amounts of time trudging through page after page of assigned books or articles for my classes. But to me that isn’t reading. Reading is traveling down a winding road to places you only dream of, falling in so deep into a narrative that it replaces your reality so much so that it feels unreal when you come up for air. I miss reading.

How did I get here?

As a kid I used to say instead of a phone, I carried a book. I was homeschooled until 9th grade and didn’t really use the internet or leave my house very much until then. At home it was just my family and I, all day, every day.

Those days weren’t empty though. They were filled with the twinkling skies of “Peter and the Starcatchers,” the heather moors of “Wuthering Heights,” the captivating mysteries of “Nancy Drew.” My favorite summer pastime was to spend all day cozy in my window seat with a stack of 11 books by my side, the most my mom would let me take out from the library at once. I’d always search for the thickest books, so I could spend even longer in the world of my choosing.

Even while tackling the rigors of high school and college applications, I still made time for a new series or two every month. I’d sneak my Kindle into class and hide it in my school books, snatching a chapter or two every chance I got. I couldn’t imagine a world without the freedom books brought me.

In comes college. Faced with hundreds of pages of dense reading every week, that new book I’d been dying to read started sitting on my shelf longer. And longer. And longer.  Soon the proverbial dust became so thick, I couldn’t even remember the names of books whose releases I’d been eagerly looking forward to just months earlier.

Now a junior in college, I frankly cannot recall the last book I read purely for my own enjoyment. With college being the massive new variable introduced to my life, it is only logical for me to believe it has influenced my reading habits, and I’m not the only one. There are many articles online investigating why college students seem to rarely read for pleasure or advice on how they can get back to doing so.

College is a pressure cooker. Students are stuffed into a pot full of responsibilities: assigned readings, clubs, internships, jobs, social lives — the list goes on and on. However, there are only so many ingredients that can be added before the pressure is too high and the pot, or student, explodes. When a student knows they have to tackle, say, three books, two papers, a presentation and a work shift all in a few days, they are not likely to add another book to the already intense workload, even if it is just for pleasure.

While I do think the vast number of responsibilities one encounters in college are a large part of the reason why a lot of college students, myself included, don’t read for pleasure anymore, for me there is an additional component. Reading is not only a commitment, it can also be an escape.

When I read for pleasure, I am 100 percent ingrained in the book I am reading. The narrator’s friends are now my closest confidants, their struggles are my tribulations and their joys are my happiness. Imagine your life getting frozen, leaving you not knowing what or when your next movement is going to be. That’s what it’s like for me when I have to stop reading a book. It’s not a pleasant thing to be ripped out of a literary universe.

With the many responsibilities of college, if I did read a book for pleasure I’d get taken out of that world with no idea when I’m going to return. When I imagine such a thing, I become even more averse to reading for pleasure. Who would want to read a book and be forced to stop halfway through, not knowing what happens or when they’d be able to find out, if ever?

I’ve realized now that what I’ve been missing when it comes to reading is balance. It has been a struggle trying to figure out the best way to juggle school, work, my career and just life in general. As much as I wish there was, there is no formula that tells you how much time and energy should be spent on the different parts of your life.

When I began college, the idea of starting my career and life on my own became an imminent reality, rather than a distant abstraction. Like many college students, I threw myself into setting myself up for life after graduation. Life after graduation seemed big and scary, so I have tried to do everything humanly possible to figure out what I’m going to do and how to make it happen. In the midst of all that, I seem to have forgotten that I still have a life right now. That means making time for a little escape, even if I can’t read as much as I used to.

Somehow, I am going to find my way back to reading because I think I have to. Let’s be honest, everyday life can be overwhelming sometimes. I’ve realized now that while I can’t spend all my time in a book like the days of my youth, I cannot spend every waking minute wrapped up in my own stress either.

After a little over two years of rarely, if ever, reading for pleasure, I can say that the sacrifice isn’t worth it. Yes, I am hesitant to start a new book series when there is chance I won’t be able to finish it for a while. But in the end, reading makes me happy. And I’ll take all the happiness I can get.

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