There is a story of woe that is common among college campuses. It goes something like this:
“When I was younger, I loved reading. I used to devour entire books in one day. My appetite for words was near insatiable. But as I got older, and especially when I got to college, I found that I began to read less and less. By dint of not cracking open books, I seem to have lost the ability to read for pleasure altogether. I miss the days when I could read for pleasure.”
The most common reasons that people give when asked why they do not read for pleasure involve such things as a lack of time in their schedules, an inability to concentrate when they read and a lack of interest in the books which they chose to read.
Concerning the lack of time, most people have this idea that reading should be the kind of activity for which they must set aside several hours. But in fact, the cool thing about reading is that – especially when you have gotten the hang of it – it can be squeezed in during your downtime.
Certainly when you first begin to read, it is important to set aside time specifically for the purposes of reading. This is because when you are attempting to start a new habit, such as reading for pleasure, you must first prime your brain for it by creating an expectation which you then hold yourself accountable for. By scheduling time specifically for the purpose of doing an activity – in this case reading – you are making a commitment to do that activity and only that activity.
It is important to make sure that in scheduling your time slot for reading that you also pick an area that is most conducive to your focusing and being able to quietly read.
This time slot does not need to be the sort of thing that is hours long. Instead, choose a small, fifteen-minute time slot before bed for you to relax and read a book. Having this time slot at the end of the day means that you will not have to worry about potential conflicts with other responsibilities, and you can just indulge yourself in a few pages of an old favorite novel. You need not read something that is complicated, especially if you’re already crunched for time.
Once you have read consistently for 15 minutes at a time you will likely, especially if you get into a good book, want to read as much as possible. This wanting to read will make it so that you look for opportunities to read. In this case, it is important that you keep a book with you at all times, so that when the urge and the opportunity strike you, you can scuttle away from society and re-engage with your beloved novel and its literary world.
Of course, when I mention that you should carry a book with you at all times, and that you will likely find yourself opening this book out of an almost psychological necessity, I am indicating to you that this is a later stage of your recuperation of literary zeal. When first reading I would suggest to you, dear reader, that you not only set aside a specific time slot for reading but that you spend this time slot in a quiet, isolated space that is conducive to your reading. This is important because it is common for people to say that they are frequently quite unable to concentrate when they are trying to read.
But then is this surprising that people complain about this after trying to read in the Pryor Learning Commons, where people are coming and going and having all sorts of loud conversations. Or still more absurd when someone tries to read while the TV is going on, or when someone chooses to read while in bed, knowing full well the extent of their exhaustion as a college student? Especially when you are first revitalizing your ability to read for pleasure, make sure to choose a location that is stimulating – something not associated with rest, as your bed is – and quiet (peace and quiet are the friends of a good reader).
Only through consistent practice, and honing of your capacity to ignore the world, can you be able to read even through the worst clamor. But, if you try to take on the challenge of reading in utter tumult while you still are trying to acclimate yourself to reading, then you are only making your life more difficult.
But what if you find that you cannot focus on what you are reading because it is dull? I will tell you something, and in telling you, give you permission to do what I tell you: if you are not enjoying a book, you are under no obligation to finish it. I tried reading “Dracula” by Bram Stoker about five separate times, each during different stages of my life. I never once got into it. I would get halfway through and would have to stop reading – the book was so dreadfully dull.
There is nothing wrong with this at all. Of course, you should try to give every book a good chance by at least trying to get through the exposition, but if the narrative does not click, then it does not click.
What might help with your predicament is to read something completely unrelated to what you are studying – but if you find yourself enamored by your studies, to read something related to what you are studying. If you find that you have grown sickly in your capacity to read for pleasure because your English classes have come to assign you cartloads of fiction, such that your primary source of recreational reading is no longer fun, then pick up something non-fiction. If, on the other hand, you love your philosophy classes, you would be wise to read works related to philosophy.
However, that is not to say that you should limit yourself to one kind of book, or to reading just one book at a time. When we read, we are sometimes in different moods, and these different moods affect the ways in which we consume what we read. It may be the case that you should read multiple books at one time so that you have something for all your major moods. However, I would not recommend more than three books at a time, and I would not recommend that you read books with too similar plotlines – you will undoubtedly confuse yourself.
I hope that you find your love of reading returned to you. Not only is reading for pleasure good for increasing your scholastic aptitude as a whole, it is also the sort of thing that is good for the soul.