As an English major, you can imagine I’ve read (or Sparknotes-ed) a lot of literature in the last 3 years. Some I greatly disliked, hence why I often end up on Sparknotes, some have been just decent, and some have made me feel like the luckiest person ever to get to read a genuinely enjoyable book and call it homework. I have to admit, the amount of times a required reading falls into that last category is seldom indeed, but it has happened once or twice in my university career and those are the moments that make me think I deserve to be labeled as an English major. (I don’t deserve to be labeled as an English major. Can you believe that some kids at university are actually there because they want to be? Like they actually get excited about reading some BS poetry book that might as well be written in Dutch because that’s how stupidly obscure and ambiguous it is?? Well they exist… crazy right? And not only do they exist but there are a lot of them… A lot. Like, go to any given upper level English course and you’ll find about 80% of the people actually want to be there and have a sincere interest in the materials they’re studying. Can you believe it??? Post-secondary education for pleasure?? Mind-blowing.)
So naturally, my desire to read for pleasure has almost, if not entirely, disappeared. And this is especially sad because I was a huge book worm growing up. I loved to read. Heck, my friends and I made a full on book club in grade six just for FUN. But as I got older and the readings in school became more tedious and uninteresting, my passion for reading started to fade. First it would be that I only read books for pleasure in the summer when I had more free time or when I was travelling and in need of some on-the-road entertainment, and then one day I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I read a book just because I wanted to. I went through a phase of flipping through “self-help” books about spiritual awakenings and whatnot, but I never fully got through any of those either. Every now and then I’ll pick up a good book, become fully absorbed, finish it in a matter of days and think ‘wow, I forgot how much I love to read! I need to pick up a new book!’ and then I never do and I go back to not reading for myself for however many months until the same thing happens again.
So the question here is: does education kill the joy of reading? Surely not for everyone, but for a lot of us I think it does. You get to high school and university where it’s all about reading a novel every week or having to get through 50 pages of a textbook each night and suddenly it becomes such a chore that the mere thought of picking up a book of your own choosing after finishing your mandatory readings makes your brain hurt. We go from being young and excited about reading a good book to dreading the very word “reading” since it is now associated with hours and hours of treacherous homework that you are really only doing to get a good mark on a test and move on.
So as an English major, I am both fortunate and unfortunate in that almost all of my assigned readings are books or poetry and not massive textbooks on accounting or organic chemistry (I realize this is completely subjective and to some people those massive textbooks are far more enjoyable than reading literature). For me, this is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, reading an entire novel in two weeks when you have a million other things going on at the same time can be next to impossible. And if that novel doesn’t interest you in the least, you’re in for a long and painful ride… (unless you’re a bad English major like me and just resort to Sparknotes. Oops!). On the other hand, in the rare case that a truly fascinating and captivating book pops up on the course syllabus, you are in for a treat. You get to spend your nights wrapped up in a book that you would have wanted to read anyway just for the sake of reading, all in the name of education! And those are the superbly uncommon but ever so sweet moments when I think maybe, just maybe, I haven’t been pretending to be something I’m not for the past 3 years of my life… I’m a real English major! I genuinely enjoyed a required reading! I’m a literary scholar! I belong here!
Of course, these feelings never last too long when the book ends and I move on to the next and likely hate every minute of it. But it’s those few times that I don’t hate every minute of it that I can pretend that I’m right where I’m meant to be. And I can even pretend that when I tell people I’m an English major I actually fit the image of a hip, cool, interesting literature geek who reads J.D. Salinger and George Orwell in her spare time. (Maybe that’s not what people envision when someone says they’re an English major and maybe I’ve over-romanticized it just a little bit, although in my experience a lot of English majors are actually really hip and smart and probably DO read classic novels in their free time which is really cool but sadly not me and I’m a little jealous of them but it’s fine).
Contrarily to what you may think, the purpose of this post was not to emphasize my lack of enthusiasm about the majority of the reading my degree entails, but rather to remind everyone to pick up a good book and enjoy the feeling of getting lost in a story. Believe it or not, I’m currently reading a book of poetry that I’m ENJOYING! After thoroughly disliking the first two books in this course, I am more than pleased to be reading something interesting that I actually want to read. I forgot how it felt to get into a book and to want to keep reading- to be curious and intrigued and unable to put it down. It feels so good! So do yourself a favour and find a good book, one you think you will truly enjoy, and set aside some time to just read. Not some book that you think will benefit you in some way or another, not some self-betterment or how to be rich kind of book, but just a good ol’ novel.