I am one of that supposedly rare and dwindling breed of young people who not only reads for pleasure, but reads actual, physical books. While others in my classes are flipping through their phones, I am more likely to be pursuing a paperback novel, or maybe even a physical newspaper or magazine. Despite this, I read much less offline (and even online) than I did back in grade school. My love for reading has not changed, at least I don’t think so, but I find less time for it than I used to.
University work involves a lot of reading and writing. Some of it is interesting and rewarding. English classes in particular have exposed me to good literature that I might not have explored otherwise. Much more often however, getting through the course readings can be a tedious slog. After a session of force-feeding myself a block of dry academic prose, I am not much in the mood for yet more reading. Likewise, even though writing fiction is supposedly my hobby (and hopefully my future profession), I rarely write for pleasure because I feel burnt-out after churning out essays and reports for school. The analogy of the “busman’s holiday,” when a person does what they do at work for pleasure outside of work, does not seem to apply in this case.
The offline nature of books and other print literature can be both a blessing and a curse. Because they do not depend on power or an internet connection, they can be read anytime, anywhere. Unfortunately, this means that doing so can always be put off for later. School work, and less readily accessible electronic entertainment, takes priority when it is available. Entertainment reading tends to get pushed into the in-between times when I cannot do either of the former, and such times are rare.
I love a good fantasy novel, and lately I have been reading The Black Company by Glen Cook. I have been reading it off and on since I got it as a Christmas gift as part of a set of the complete series of the same name. Four months later I still have yet to finish the first book, and there are several more left to go.
Lately, my mother has been pressuring me to read 1984 by George Orwell. Yes, I know, shame on me for not having read 1984 already. It is supposedly one of those books that everyone ought to read, but there are an awful lot of those. There are books you have to read for work, books you ought to read because they are so popular or culturally important, and books you want to read because you simply find them enjoyable (or think you will). The first category always takes priority. Eventually you can get through it all, if only for a little while before the next assignment or semester puts you back to square one. While you are dealing with that, the list of the other two categories grows longer and longer. The “to read” list eventually becomes so long that you have no hope of ever getting through it all, even if you had all the time in the world.
Sometimes I try to substitute the satisfaction of reading books by buying new ones. Few things are more pleasurable to me than going book shopping. Ironically, only half of my new acquisitions will actually get read beyond the first chapter or two because often I get distracted and forget about them, which is all too easy when there are long times between reading sessions. In all likelihood, they will just end up scattered around my room because my bookcase has been full to overflowing for a long time now, but I still want more. Reading has become yet another victim of our ruthless commodity culture.
Perhaps reading print is a form of entertainment whose time has come and gone, but I do not believe that. Reading is still a perfectly good and valid form of entertainment. The problem is, not only is there rarely enough free time for such a time-consuming hobby, it is too similar to work, at least for students.
Image: Cory Jensen/The Cascade