Have you ever stopped reading for a long period of time? If so, how long and why?
My instinctive, knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘of course not!’ but then, oh then, I second-guessed myself. You see… when you are a literature student, the lines between course reading and leisure reading become dangerously blurred. So I could technically claim that I had stopped reading (what I specifically choose/want to read) during my time at sixth form when I did my A Levels. Very few extra-curricular books were read in those months leading up to university application deadlines and final coursework submission dates.
I was in sixth form from about September 2009 to July 2011 so looking back now, with the help of Goodreads, I allegedly read 9 books in my first year of sixth form (Sep 09-July 10), 4 of which were actually ‘leisure reads’, and a weirdly large 29 in my second year (Sep 10-July 11), 13 of which were ‘leisure reads’. Now, that doesn’t seem that bad. I didn’t completely cut reading out of my life. But I will say that a large proportion of those books, and indeed the ones I dedicated the most time to, were assigned reading for coursework and exams. Which, as I said, as a literature student, I’m kind of used to…
Okay, sure, so The Tempest isn’t technically a ‘leisure read’ since it was assigned to me but I enjoyed it so doesn’t that mean it counts? This is what I meant about the grey areas that emerge for so many literature students. And very often, I would spend months and months poring over a set text, plucking every last implication and suggestion from every last punctuation mark (or lack thereof) with which I could tentatively connect to the overarching themes of pre-destiny.
Actually, truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever just not read. As soon as I gained the ability to read, I read. That’s why the film version of Matilda holds a very dear place in my heart and it still cheers me up, no matter what kind of day I’ve had. However, the run up period to coursework deadlines or important exams (like A Levels) was definitely the period in which my reading drastically slowed down. In fact, I’d say what actually happened was that my reading habits changed. What I became was a sporadic* reader. I could go weeks and weeks without reading something that wasn’t assigned to me, that wasn’t another task to be completed for a grade at the end of it all. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the books I studied, but I stopped leisure reading in that time because I always thought that it was cheating somehow. But when half-term rolled around, or that glorious Christmas break, I would devour 3 or 4 books in quick succession.
I can’t say that’s changed quite as much as I would like. But I will say I have learnt better to allow myself to read a non-school related book without feeling immense, crushing guilt that I’m not re-reading an assigned course-text instead… which, I think everyone can agree, is an improvement!
*Is there anyone else who hears the word sporadic and immediately associates it with Tai from Clueless? Please say it’s not just me here.