Book Club: Leisure Reading in Graduate School

As I entered my information on my Goodreads account, I hesitated. Should I even be setting a reading goal for this year? Back in January, I was determined to read 52 books for 52 weeks, but isn’t that an impossible goal for a graduate student?

Many graduate students at HLS and elsewhere have weighed in. It is possible to read for leisure while in school, but it takes a little extra effort. First of all, it’s not your fault if one minute you’re a voracious reader and the next minute, you’re too tired to pick up a book. The reading materials assigned in school require energy, memorization, and synthesis. Therefore, reading for leisure can feel like an obligation if your book requires you to participate in those same activities. Second, there aren’t enough hours in the day. How do you prioritize reading for leisure when you have a job, classes, homework, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, internships, friends, partners, kids, life? While talking to other graduate students about how they approach their own reading, I’ve found that these readers look for material from three categories: length, genre, and format.


We’ve already established that we have a lot of factors weighing on our free time. Therefore, to read for leisure, you must make it a conscious priority or a routine. One HLS writer makes time to read for fun when they could be scrolling on social media. Another reads a little bit every night before bed, even after staying out late, even if it’s just a couple of pages. As for content, you may want to stick to shorter narratives. One reader recommends long-form journalism, but if current events are bumming you out, perhaps pick up a collection of poetry. An anthology of short stories is also a good option because you don’t have to finish all of the stories at once. I like to read plays periodically, and I know a lot of people who are into fan fiction.

HLS recommends:

The New York Trilogy: Paul Auster

The Complete Stories: Clarice Lispector


Academic reading takes a lot of energy, and sometimes a good to just wind down with something lighter. In his first semester, one of my classmates read nothing by travel fiction. Another turns to David Sedaris for some laughs. I personally like to read comic books and graphic novels in my free time. In my program, a few students have a bookclub in which they all read the same books during summer, winter, and spring breaks. However, during the school year, they read different favorite books from their childhood. Another HLS reader agrees that this is a good method, as she is reading all of the Harry Potter books this term. As librarians, perhaps sometimes we feel a pressure to read “the classics” or “contemporary literary fiction,” but we must remember never to hierarchize narratives, even to ourselves. Intellectual freedom is the cornerstone to our profession, so pick up those childhood faves!

HLS recommends:

Persepolis: Marjane Satrapi

Turtles All the Way Down: John Green

And All the Stars: Andrea K. Höst

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: E. L. Konigburg


You read all of your assignments on the computer, so the last thing you want to do is read a book on a Kindle, right? Ditto to printed assignments and traditional books? To that, I answer: audiobooks. Audiobooks have been saving my life since I realized that my public library had Overdrive. You can download the books, section by section, and listen without using up data on your phone. I commute a little over an hour a day, so audiobooks help with this leisure reading conundrum. If your library doesn’t have Overdrive, Audible is another good place to find audiobooks, and they give you one free book to start. I’ve also recently gotten into podcasts. We have talked about LIS podcasts on HLS before, but I would suggest turning to something not related to LIS once in awhile. Pretty much every smartphone has a podcast app. I got into podcasts by listening to Serial, so I mostly listen to nonfiction true crime type of stuff (any librarian murderinos out there?), but there is really something for everyone!

HLS recommends:

Welcome to Nightvale podcast

Swamplandia!: Karen Russell, narrated by David Ackroyd and Ariel Sitrick

Thinking Sideways podcast

As a librarian, I like to make lists, but most of my favorite books have been discovered serendipitously, like picking a book off the staff recommendation shelf or buying a book on a whim at the airport. Sometimes this happens through the syllabus of a course (yes, academic reading can be leisure reading too!). Choosing a book serendipitously may seem arbitrary, but I’ve found that it often yields profound results. I’d hate to deny myself this possibility, simply because I’m too busy.

What are your favorite books you’ve read in graduate school? How do you make time to read for fun?


Cover photo: “Graphic Novels” by morebyless. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Image depicts a shelf of graphic novels.

Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at the University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. She now works as a technical editor for an academic journal. Connect with her on social media or her website.

8 replies

  1. For some of my classes, such as my Readers Advisory course, we had to read 35 books for the semester -we picked 25 others were class picked. Of course I took this same time as a ya materials class with the same assignment, so that was a ton of reading I had to fit into one semester.
    I will say audiobooks (on 1.5x or higher) were a great help. Those and shorter novels I could find.
    It was difficult, but I got them in 🙂


  2. I’ve read 277 books this year. Between my Adult, Young Adult, and Children’s Material’s and Services classes, I’ve been assigned to read over 100 books this year. I keep an excel sheet full of data on my books and plan to make some data visualizations of my reading at the end of the year (nerd, nerd, nerd). Pleasure reading-wise I mainly consume graphic novels, poetry, and audiobooks. I have about an hour long commute too, so I’ve listened to a lot of audiobooks (usually at an increased speed, because too many of the narrators speak way too slowly for me).

    My MLIS cohort tried to have a book club, but that fell through. I like the idea of a more free form book club, that’s less in-depth discussion (I got enough of that as a lit major) and more recommendation. A Reader’s Advisory book club sounds like tons of fun to me.

    I briefly ran a booktubing channel this year, but that was too much on top of school, work, and life. I think a lot of LIS peeps should definitely explore the booktube community, could definitely help with reader’s advisory.


    • Hi Mikki,
      277 books this year and the year isn’t even over yet??? Damn! That is so cool! I especially like the spreadsheet/visualization idea (nerd nerd nerd here too, it must a librarian thing). Any booktube account suggestions for someone new to the booktubing community?


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