My class this semester, as so many of our classes do, started with an assignment to introduce ourselves on an online discussion board. One popular topic of conversation ended up being reading for fun in grad school, and the merits versus time constraints thereof. More than one person popped in to say some variant of, ‘I used to read for fun, and I wish I still could, but it’s so difficult while I’m in school.’
As someone who all but gave up fun reading while in undergrad, and then ended up regretting it, this really hit home for me. One of my goals when I first decided to go back to school was that I wouldn’t let that happen to me again. I realize that I may be atypical, in that I’m only taking one course a semester; but, last year, I also read 57 books or book-like objects and (despite the fact that it’s only February) I’m on track to do the same again this year. I’m not saying that has to be anyone else’s goal; but if you’re likewise looking for ways to bump up your numbers, here are some things that have helped me (and if this still isn’t enough, here are some more good ones).
- Audiobooks. If you’re trying to get through books quickly, audiobooks probably won’t replace your print reading. (Generally speaking, humans can read print about twice as fast as they can listen.) However, audiobooks aren’t for times when you have a print or e-book handy – they’re for times when you don’t. Audiobooks are great for commutes (either car or public transportation), house cleaning projects, taking walks, and any other time you can’t spare your hands or your eyes but would still like to get some reading done. I tend to use audiobooks to re-read things I’ve already read, so it matters less if I lose focus for a minute and miss a couple of sentences, but I’ve also glommed onto a couple of narrators I really enjoy and will try new things just because they’re the one(s) reading it.
- Short story collections and comics. These are great for just a little bite-sized reading while waiting for an appointment or before going to bed. It’s a complete, self-contained story, with a beginning, middle, and end. So, you’re not left on a cliffhanger like you would be at a chapter break; and they usually are part of either a collection or a longer series, so once you find one you like you don’t have to waste time choosing what to read next, which leads me to…
- Serials. You know what eats up a good portion of my free reading time? It’s not homework or housework – it’s figuring out what to read next. I could spend days browsing Twitter or Goodreads and making increasingly lengthy TBR lists that I will probably never actually get to or even like, but it feels like reading so I keep doing it. Lately, I’ve been working on cutting way back on my book browsing time by picking a couple of authors and series that I’ve tried and liked before, and aiming to read everything they’ve written. No more guessing about what to read next! I just go from one, straight on to the next thing.
- Overdrive/Libby. This is not a call to abandon the holds shelf at your local public library – far from it! But, there is something about the extreme ease and convenience of being able to check out something to read at a moment’s notice and having it loaded and ready to go on your phone whenever you want it without having to remember to carry a print book with you – or a stack of CDs and a CD player if you’re listening to audiobooks. (Also, during pandemic times, it keeps you and your local library staff safe and distanced, while still utilizing the library collection.)
- Give up, fast. I know it sounds oxymoronic – to read more, you have to stop reading – but once I finished my undergrad degree I realized just how freeing it is to not have to read things anymore (why yes, I was an English major, how could you tell). No one is grading me on whether I understand Nathaniel Hawthorne (at least, not anymore.) So, if I’m not enjoying something – even if a friend recommended it to me, even if it won a bunch of awards, even if everyone on my Twitter feed is raving about it – I stop reading it. Maybe I’ll go back to it later, but maybe I won’t! And it’s fine! Better to look forward to getting to read something I do want to read, then put off reading something I’m not enjoying.
- Alternatively – don’t. As I said before, no one is grading you on whether you read for fun or not; so if you’re not feeling it, don’t feel bad about opting out for a week or a month or a year. My goal of 50+ books a year is my own, completely arbitrary, and ultimately irrelevant. If I don’t reach it, oh well! Reading isn’t supposed to make you feel guilty – it’s supposed to be fun and if for whatever reason it’s not fun, do something else that is. We’re grad students, we get precious little free time as it is – don’t squander it doing something that makes you feel bad. Books aren’t expiring – they’ll still be there when and if you decide you do want one.
I hope one or more of these tips help, and if you’re already a voracious reader and want to share your tricks, secrets, or recommendations for making it work while in grad school, please share in the comments below!
Lauren has finally checked off almost all of her prereqs and is starting to take some electives in the MLIS program at San José State University, mostly centered around academic libraries and cataloging. She works in a community college library and hopes to stay in academia after graduation. She watches an extraordinary amount of television.