I have spent the past three years studying for an English degree and I have loved it. I’m not going to talk specifically about my degree or university experience here, although leave me a comment if you would like that content, but I am going to talk about some things I learnt whilst studying English.
I would just like to add here, you do not need to be an English student, or a university student, to benefit from this post. I am writing this to pass on ‘lessons’ that I learnt about reading, but I have chosen things that may be of interest to anyone.
I’m sure we all have our reading habits and ideas about reading, but studuing English at university really helped me to open up my reading. I was definitely challenged by my degree and I would never have believed how much I would read and enjoy during my time at uni. I certainly would never have believed you if you had told me that Old English is super interesting!
However, being in a place where I could read and study in a safe space, with no judgement and plenty of encouragement was amazing for my reading and my confidence.
So, I have selected a few ‘lessons’ about reading that I thought other readers may be interested in.
Don’t judge a book by its size
I definitely used to have the misconception that the size of a book influences what that book will be like. I assumed that a big book would be more boring, harder to read and would put me in a slump. I therefore thought that small books were great because they would be quick, easy reads. University has taught me that this is not the case. The size of a book does not necessarily impact the contents of the book.
Yes, a large book will probably take you longer to read and will have more content, but it is not necessarily going to be more difficult or less enjoyable. What really matters in a book is the narrative, pace and content.
For example, Vanity Fair is a big novel, but the language was very accessible and the narrative hooked me in. Opposing this, Heart of Darkness is a very short novel but it is heavily descriptive and does not have much of a narrative. I expected this book to be a quick read, but it ended up taking me ages to get through.
So, whilst I am guilty of judging a book by its cover, please try not to judge a book by its size!
Don’t be afraid to read Classics
When a book is labelled as a ‘classic’, it is easy to feel lots of pressure to read it and to enjoy or appreciate it. Additionally, I used to think that classics were written with really difficult language and would be hard to understand as they are from a different time period.
However, I have now read a few classics and whilst some are more difficult to read, and some require some contextual knowledge to gain a deeper understanding, there are plenty that are very accessible and most are still relevant today. The language is not always difficult, and the stories are often easy to lose yourself in. I really recommend giving some classics a go.
If it would interest you, I am planning to do a post recommending some classics, so leave a comment to let me know if you would like that.
Also, there are so many good film and television adaptations of lots of popular classics, so you could use those to help your reading and understanding. If you are struggling to grasp the context or to picture the novel in your mind, maybe a visual representation will be useful to you.
Try reading different genres and authors
This is probably the biggest thing that univeristy did for me. During my degree we had to study a range of authors, time periods, forms and genres. I was very daunted by this, but now, I am so glad we did this. I was introduced to so much and I feel much more confident that I can continue to read widely now that university has finshed for me.
I recommend pushing yourself a bit with your reading, although I know that that can feel daunting. This can be by reading a different author, genre, form or by reading something from a different time period to your usual.
A great way to find recommendations for somethign different to read is through blogs and Bookstagram.
One piece of advice I would give is not to push yourself too hard or too often. Stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding your reading is great, but you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Maybe read one different book a month to start with whilst you explore potential new interests.
Try not to view this as a chore, but think of it as finding and exploring new interests! And if you don’t enjoy something new that you try, that is fine too.
Let what you enjoy lead you
Whilst the above point still stands, do not compromise your enjoyment of reading. You do not want to make yourself read genres or authors that you do not enjoy and that make you dislike reading or put you in a slump.
Trying new things is good, but if you try it and don’t like it, that is okay. Try not to feel pressure to read what does not interest or appeal to you.
When you do find a genre or an author you like, explore further. For example, if you like books by Jane Austen, what is it you like about those books? Could you read more books by the same author? Or more books of a similar genre? Expanding your reading gradually in this way will help you to explore without pushing you too far out of your comfort zone.
Plus, reading is what you want it to be, so don’t feel pressured or judged for what you choose to read. I know that I mostly like to read for escapism and so thrillers do not appeal to me at all as I know I would not feel relaxed reading them and this is fine. Even though I see a lot of other people talking about thrillers and how great they are, I just remember that we all have different tastes and it is okay to know what you like.
You can read books in different ways
This may sound a bit odd, but what I mean is that sometimes you can really get into the analysis of a book, and sometimes you can just read through a book without making any notes at all. Importantly, you do not have to do one or other of these for every book you read. In fact, it is best to decide on a book by book basis. For example, because I like to write book reviews for this blog and my Instagram, I choose to make notes most of the time for books that I am reading. However, whilst at uni I was analysing most of the books I was studying so when I read a book for pleasure I chose not to make any notes at all so that I could just lose myself in the book and relax.
Factors that may influence how you read a book could be: why you are reading the book (e.g. book group, school, uni), what genre the book is, do you plan to write about the book or discuss it after reading.
You also do not have to go from one extreme to the other. Sometimes I begin reading a book and then decide to note down a few key quotes that I really like or ideas that spring to mind as I am reading that I want to remember.
Lastly, try not to feel pressured or judged. If you want to heavily annotate and study your books, that’s great, but if you just want to read the book without making a single note, that is also great. Do what you want to do.
Of course, university taught me a lot more than this, but I hoped these lessons about reading that I picked up during my three years studying English Literature would be helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have any more advice for reading!