My English Degree and My Love/Hate Relationship with Books

Kirsten Murray

I chose to study English literature at university because I liked reading. What 17-year-old me didn’t realise was that I liked reading in moderation, and on my own terms. 

Over the last three years, my life has consisted of a period of intense reading during term time, absent of any form of reading for “pleasure”. I become a reading machine, constantly timetabling my life around reading chapters, poems and plays, stress calculating when I will fit it all in, finishing one and moving straight onto the next. I hate to admit it, but one of the first things I do when I buy my books for each term is look at the number of pages and the font size, enabling me to calculate how long it will take me to read. 

My degree is reading, talking about reading, and then writing about reading, and this suddenly changed my relationship with books. After reading all day, I no longer saw reading as an enjoyable past time. I still loved books, but I wasn’t in the right headspace to read. There were just too many books in my life and I needed space. 

One positive of lockdown, was that it gave me that space. Over Lockdown 1.0 I fell back in love with reading (let’s be honest there was nothing else to do) and was consuming books at an incredible pace. I looked forward to picking the next story of escapism off my shelf, yet I could no longer just read. 

Relaxing in the garden, you’d find me with my book in one hand and a pencil and sticky labels in the other. My books are now filled with underlinings, notes, sticky post-its or dog-eared corners. Words are more powerful to me now and if I read something that I “connect” with *vomits*, I MUST underline it. It’s as if every time I start a new book, my mind subconsciously says “you may need this quotation later in life” and I must make a note of it. Or I make links in my head between different texts, and theories and think about the text in a whole new way. 

Similarly, I started a blog during the summer reviewing books, attempting to create something productive out of all my hours of reading. I had to highlight quotes which I thought would be powerful in an article and take picture of the book cover in the grass or on a coffee table. I couldn’t just read a book and leave it at that. 

Reading is so much more than just words on a page, cheesy as it sounds, reading is a feeling. Reading is escapism, its emotional, it’s both uplifting and heart-breaking, reading is an experience. Yet I still struggle to define between reading for work (my degree) and reading for pleasure (everything else on my bookshelf). Can I even define between the two anymore? Or is the line now blurred?

Perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. I may hate that I can’t even read Bridget Jones without analysing toxic masculinity, but my degree has given me a unique perspective on reading that I will have for the rest of my life. I suspect I will be forever tied to my Love/Hate relationship with books. 

Categories: Education, Literature

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