When I tell people I study an English Literature degree, I often get asked the same set of questions. They can usually be conveniently condensed into the following three:
- How many books do you read?
- Do you ever read for fun anymore?
- Don’t you get bored of reading?
The first can be answered rather simply: a lot. If they want specifics, it usually boils down to two novels a week, a couple of chapters or articles from secondary sources, and a whole lot of critical material when essay season comes around. This of course depends on which modules I am taking at the time (poetry courses, for example, are a godsend), but I tend to inevitably fall for the modules with the heftier reading load (cue flashback to my two weeks of reading Middlemarch and Vanity Fair back to back). It can be safely said that there is always an open book on my bed-side table, and if I did not have the skill of skim-reading before, I certainly do now.
In relation to question two, the notion of ‘reading for fun’ or ‘reading for pleasure’ is a real bugbear of mine. It implies that English students have a sort of ‘Wax on, Wax off’ mentality, that if I am reading for my degree I suddenly become a beady-eyed, simile-hunting, raving beast with a highlighter. In my eyes at least, any kind of reading is reading for pleasure. When I read any work, be it for my course or not, I am still looking to engage with the text in the same way. I want to become emotionally invested, I want to ponder over the author’s message, and I want to be able to appreciate an interestingly crafted piece of work. Granted, I may not take my Riverside Chaucer on holiday as a pool-side read (partly owing to the fact that it weighs the same amount as a small child), but when I do open it up I am hoping to enjoy it just as much as I would a Times Bestseller.
When responding to question three I typically laugh, shake my head, and smile pityingly. Perhaps I am biased; I did after all electively decide to devote four years of my life to being bookish. But I cannot comprehend the idea that one could tire of reading. It is positively boggling to consider the number of books out there that I will never be able to read and the number of stories just waiting to be told. I often contemplate the fact that my favourite book is probably still sat untouched, kept apart from me by some cruel twist of fate. Literature can be constantly taken in new and exciting directions and there will always be a surplus of material just waiting to be picked up off the shelves. For a case in point I would highly recommend getting lost in your local Waterstones for an hour or two. Whilst it is true that my course does demand an awful lot of reading, and my eyes may droop from time to time when working through critical theories of the ‘audience function’, the words of a lecturer on my first university open day have stuck by me: ‘never again in your life will you have the time to sit back and just read for a living’. I thus fully intend to make the most of it.
If there is one thing that has left me disappointed about my degree, however, it is the sheer number of ideas, thoughts, and opinions that go undocumented. We read so widely and so intensely that when it comes to writing essays or scraping a semi-coherent answer together in an exam, you are only able to cover a mere fraction of the material that has interested you. It may only be something trivial, like a particularly poignant quotation, or a certain character who deserves to be spoken about but does not quite make the cut in the final coursework edit. Nonetheless it is disappointing to leave such thoughts by the wayside. ‘undergradreader’ is my way of remedying this situation. It is a place to jot down the odds and ends and finally do justice to all the aspects of this degree that I have the pleasure of studying. I am excited and I hope you are too. Watch this space.