I finished my master’s degree in May. Saying that it involved a lot of reading is like saying that swimming the English Channel involves getting wet. Grad school feels somewhat like drowning to begin with — you’re going through so much material each week, being exposed to so many new ideas, and trying to process and organize what you’re reading that it’s hard not to feel like you’re barely holding your head above water.
By the time I finished my program, I was more than ready to be done. I was ready to take back control of my reading life. To read what I want to read, rather than what I’d been assigned. I found myself gravitating toward middle grades fiction and graphic novels — fun books, ones that didn’t make me think too hard, and books that I could finish in a single sitting.
But after a month or so, I found myself getting restless in my reading life. I didn’t miss being told what to read all the time, or having to read assigned readings on the recumbent bike at the gym or in bed before going to sleep just in order to keep up. But I did miss being exposed to new and challenging texts that I wouldn’t necessarily have discovered on my own.
I decided that it was time to re-evaluate my approach to reading. Here are a few ideas that have helped me to re-shape how I read in this new phase of life.
Keep reading for pleasure. Most of my pleasure reading got laid to the side when I was in school, and I missed it. There’s something very refreshing about having enough margin in my life to pick a fast-paced novel or a book I can finish in a single sitting. I want to keep books in my life that I read for sheer pleasure.
Keep a challenging book on hand. I tend to read more than one book at a time, and it’s helpful for me to balance out my pleasure reading with a book that’s more of a challenge. Whether the challenge is in the content or the writing style, I find it rewarding to delve into books that force me to think more deeply. Interacting with new ideas is part of what keeps me feeling truly alive.
Take the opportunity to explore new topics. While school exposed me to a lot of new ideas, all of my classes and readings were centered on a fairly narrow and specialized set of topics. I didn’t have time to check out that quirky microhistory of office supplies or the new collection of poetry by that poet I’ve been meaning to check out. I’ve been exploring a much wider range of topics and genres since getting out of school, and it’s been fun to embrace the variety.
Perhaps the most helpful decision I’ve made since being out of grad school is to refuse to allow my reading life to stagnate. I may not be in the midst of the idea-rich (but frenetic) environment of full-time academia, but that’s no reason to read only within my bubble of safe and familiar works. Whatever my circumstances, reading can take me places. Let the adventure continue.
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