Reading for pleasure when reading for your degree
Reading fatigue is a real issue for many students; the long weeks holed up in the library trying to keep your eyes open as you scan 30 plus pages of scholarly articles is part of the student initiation.
However, arts and humanities students find themselves in a peculiarly unique situation where the reading part of their degree is the part they are supposed to enjoy the most.
Reading novels, plays, poems and short stories by authors of every time period and background was the selling point to study English Literature, but upon approaching the reading portion of the degree, many find themselves fatigued and overwhelmed. The thought of cracking open a 200 page novel that once would have only taken under a week, is now a chore. Reading for fun is no longer, well… fun. But how do we overcome this? Reading was once a pleasurable pastime, is there any way to rekindle the same ferocity for reading we once held, or is this a problem we will have until our academic journey comes to an end? I had all these questions in my head during the peak of my undergraduate degree. I remember looking at the pile of books I had to read and feeling the same pit of desire arise in me that had begun during my first year. When did I start to regard reading as a chore rather than an enjoyable past-time? When did reading drain me instead of rejuvenate me? It wasn’t until my final year of my undergraduate degree that I had found a solution for my reading fatigue and started to read for pleasure once again; and I will be telling you what worked for me, and hopefully this works for you.
To understand how to overcome reading fatigue, it is best to understand where it comes from and understand why we feel the way that we do. Reading or academic fatigue arises when a person becomes disillusioned and burnout due to academic pressure and stress. Feeling a lack of motivation, general apathy, anxiety and irritability are common signs of academic burnout. Recognising that this is the way that you feel is important in overcoming it. As literature students it is easy to believe that you are suffering alone. Every seminar is a reminder that others are much more ahead than you, have read more than you, understood more. So, many of us will not be honest about how much we are struggling, we won’t confide with our peers, we won’t seek help and we suffer in silence. For anyone who this resonates with, this I hope you are listening; you are not alone and there is a way to get help. University can be a lonely experience and you can feel like a fish out of water, but the lucky thing is, most people feel the exact same way. Nobody enters university with everything figured out and a plan, we are all learning as we go and adapting our learning to what suits us best. As a student you have just finished 7 years of Secondary and higher education and are embarking on three (maybe more), more years of academia. That is a lot to handle and it is understandable that your brain is a little overwhelmed.
So please be assured that academic fatigue is normal, it is relatable and you are not behind everyone else.
Now that we understand what the feeling that we are experiencing is, we can now take measurements to battle it. I will be talking from personal experience as to how I overcame my academic fatigue and I will be speaking on personal accounts alone. For me, once I recognised that I was experiencing academic fatigue I started to rebuild my relationship with books. I most likely will not be able to read at the same frequency that I once did as a child (more responsibility, less leisure time, longer books), however, I can remind myself why I loved reading so much and remind myself of the feeling I experienced from a good book.
Step One: Get Help
Academic fatigue is not a feeling that should be ignored but rather one that should be tackled in a way that is suitable for you. The first step upon recognising you’re struggling is getting the right help, for me, this meant seeking support from the university’s Wellbeing and Support services. I first came across the services through my emails, from there I began talking to one of the counselors. Being able to discuss how I was feeling was an incredibly liberating feeling, the talks were beneficial for me to unpack my stress and all the external factors which exibrated the pressure I was feeling. Alongside seeking help for my mental health, I also took a break from social media. I found that apps had become an unhealthy way for me to detach myself from reality and in effect worsen my condition. I was achieving even less and making myself feel worse by endlessly scrolling through timelines. I needed a detox. Which brings us to step two.
Step Two: Re-Read
One of the things that I found to be useful was re-reading some of the books from my childhood that I used to love. That meant cracking out the Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kids series; re-entering the world of Jacquline Wilson and just every novel, comic and piece of writing that ignited my love of books. I rediscovered a novel that had a profound impact on me as a teen, it is a novel called Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s a novel which plays around with the concept of the afterlife and images death as a sort of second life. In the novel, the age you die is the number of years you have in the afterlife to ‘live,’ however, instead of getting older, you get younger until you are a baby and get reincarnated. This was a novel that stuck with me for years. I have always been quite afraid of death, however, the novel made death seem more natural and comforting as a concept. Rereading the book reminded me of the reasons why I got into literature in the first place. Because of the transformative effects it has on you, the comfort writers allow and the world you are invited to. It reminded me that I do love books and reading for pleasure is something that I can still do.
Step Three: Read! Once the zeal for reading had been reignited I challenged myself to resume my old habit of reading for pleasure. Reading for the pure joy and fulfilment of reading, rather than reading for a grade or academic gratification. I fired up my Goodreads account and re-entered the literature
world. I joined Booktok and Booktube to absorb all the highly acclaimed and recommended
novels, I went back to Waterstones with the intention of actually purchasing a book rather than just looking, and I well..read. I read without any pressure, without stress and without haste. I read a book in 3 weeks but it was liberating. To know that I could still enjoy novels was the best feeling I have ever experienced. I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Toffee, My Dark Vanessa and Convenience Store Woman. All of which reminded me literature is not just all old text from ancient writers and perceived superiority for reading the classics. Literature is an enjoyable pastime and it should be treated as such, not a chore or a burden.
Step Four: Plan, Organise, De-stress
The final step in which I took to regain my self-confidence and zeal for my degree was to organise and plan my weeks. Part of the reason I suffered from academic fatigue was the lack of free time I had and the feeling of claustrophobia my workload was giving me. Thus, keeping myself on top of my work was imperative in my recovery. The method that worked best for me was planning my reading and stretching them over the weeks rather than trying to do bits of everything everyday. If I had a novel, 2 pieces of reading, a reflective journal and discussion post due all in the same week I would allocate time to tackle the tasks in pairs. Eg, Monday: 5 chapters of the novel, one reading. Tuesday: 5 chapters, reflective journal,etc. This helped me manage my workload and make sense of all the content I was approaching.
This method thus allowed me to carry on with my social activities and work related tasks alongside my degree. University is a lot, it is stressful and it is daunting. But it is doable. For me this meant schedules, structure and planning. It thus allowed me to keep my social life alive and make time for myself.
Step Five: Application
Now that I have provided information regarding how I combatted academic fatigue and won, it is time that you do the same. Take a nap, go outside, do your skincare, learn a new recipe. Do not let stress and university pressure take over your life. Talk to friends, a counselor, anyone you trust. Remember that you chose a degree in literature because you love reading, or you love language, or you love theatre, or cinema or plays or whatever it is that is your niche. The person that excitedly applied for this degree is still there. They just need reassurance and nourishing.
You’ve got this, read on.
Digital Student Ambassador, Valentia Adarkwa-Afari